Overstating sexual assault definitions diminishes its harms

Alex Rothschild-Tayoub

The Oxford Dictionary defines sexual assault as “The action or an act of forcing an unconsenting person to engage in sexual activity; a rape; (Law) a crime involving forced sexual contact, variously defined as inclusive or exclusive of rape.” UT defines sexual assault in their Appendix as, “an offense that meets the definition of rape, fondling, incest, or statutory rape.”

With the recent survey regarding sexual assaults statistics on the UT campus being released, there’ve been a plethora of opinion articles regarding the survey and sexual assault in general, but one article stood out because of the assertions it was making regarding what is considered sexual assault. 

The article stated that, “Repeatedly asking your partner to have sex and acting aggressively upset or ‘disappointed’ is sexual assault and is not okay.” Sexual assault not being OK is a fact, but to say that an instance in which a partner is “disappointed” because someone declines to have sex is sexual assault is ridiculous, unfounded, and, in my opinion as a survivor of sexual assault, completely disrespectful to victims and survivors of sexual assault. 

When I come home late at night from studying over to my new husband’s condo and tell him “not tonight because I’m tired” and I see he’s “disappointed," in no way, shape, or form does my mind think that he just sexually assaulted me.

In order to combat sexual assault on campus or anywhere for that matter, we have to preserve the importance of the definition of sexual assault. By that I mean people have to stop trying to shove all their beliefs of their meaning of sexual assault under the umbrella term that is sexual assault. If that were to continue, the term sexual assault becomes blurred and, as a result, will create more confusion and uncertainty for victims and survivors. That confusion and uncertainty will just prevent more victims and survivors from reporting what happened to them. As the number of reports is already low, if people continue to redefine or preach their interpretation of sexual assault, the number of reports will mostly continue to decrease as a result of the confusion and uncertainty. 

The definition of sexual assault has to be preserved and remain consistent in order to best fight sexual assault and rid it from both the UT campus and all universities. With a clear and concise understanding of what sexual assault is, the problem of sexual assault becomes clear, and the fight against sexual assault becomes stronger, unified and more impactful.

Rothschild is an economics and humanities senior from Dallas.