Understanding the Language

The Callisto Survivor’s Guide was written by fellow survivors to remind you that you are surrounded by a community of caring individuals, and that there are many resources available to help you on your journey. The excerpt below, “Understanding the Language,” is just one section. You can learn more about reporting options, advice for self-care, and how to get emotional help in the complete guide.

As a survivor navigating your options to take action, you may be learning a whole new language of law, policy, and psychology. In this blog post, we will walk you through the most important terms related to rape, sexual assault, and sexual coercion. Before we begin, we want to stress two things.

First, anyone — no matter their sex, gender, age, race — can be the victim of rape, sexual assault, and sexual coercion. Second, rape, sexual assault, and sexual coercion are inexcusable. They are never, ever the fault of the victim.

Warning: The following content contains triggering and graphic


The legal definition of consent differs from state to state. In general, consent is an active, verbal agreement to engage in sexual activity with someone. Sexual activity without your consent is rape or sexual assault. If you are underage, under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or sleeping, you do not have the capacity to give consent. If someone pressures, tricks, or emotionally forces you to agree to sexual activity, this is considered sexual coercion.

Sexual Coercion

Any person of any sex, gender, age, and race can be a victim of sexual coercion. Sexual coercion means pressuring, tricking, threatening, or non-physically forcing someone into any sexual activity. This can also be in the form of requesting sexual activity in exchange for a professional or financial
benefit. You do not owe anyone sex — not your investors, bosses, mentors, teachers, or anyone who does or does not have any power over you.

Sexual Harassment

Any person of any sex, gender, age, and race can be a victim of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment and is illegal. Sexual harassment includes any unwanted verbal or physical sexual behavior in the workplace. This can range from sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy, or looks, to very serious acts that qualify as assault or rape. Sexual harassment is about the impact of the behavior on you, and the severity and frequency of the incidents. It is not about the intent of the person who is engaging in the behavior.

Sexual Assault

Any person of any sex, gender, age, and race can be a victim of sexual assault — including spouses and long-term partners. Any sexual activity that you did not consent to is sexual assault. While sexual assault and rape are sometimes used interchangeably, sexual assault also refers to non-penetrative sexual activity, including fondling and molestation.


Any person of any sex, gender, age, and race can be a victim of rape — including spouses and long-term partners. When someone penetrates your vagina or anus with any object or body part, or your mouth with their sex organ, without your consent, it is rape. Please know that consent to one sexual act does not imply consent to another sexual act. There can be rape even if the victim consented to certain sexual acts.

If you experienced an event that was traumatizing, or just didn’t feel right, and you are not able to define it, you can talk to an attorney to help you
understand the legal aspects of what happened. Check with a local justice center or your local bar association to get information on their legal aid support.


American Bar Association Directory
Department of Justice: Legal Definition of Rape
Department of Justice: Legal Definition of Sexual Assault
EEOC: Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment
Legal Age of Consent by State
National Employment Lawyers Association
National Women’s Law Center
Office of Women’s Health: Legal Definition of Sexual Coercion
RAINN: Definition of Consent by State
RAINN: Legal Definition of Rape and Assault by State
RAINN: State Law Database

Callisto is a non-profit organization that develops technology to combat sexual assault and sexual coercion.