Expansive Definitions of Sexual Assault

SAVE is concerned about the trend to expand definitions of sexual assault to the point that holding hands, a prolonged hug, a good-night kiss, and other commonplace activities could be classified as unlawful.

The U.S. Department of Justice now defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” By this definition, even a peck on the cheek without explicit consent would be sexual assault. Laura Dunn, director of SurvJustice, argues that unwanted kissing should be considered a form of sexual assault. University of Virginia policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment bans any intentional sexual touching, “however slight.”

Numerous colleges have adopted overly broad definitions of sexual harassment, as well:*

  1. California State University, Chico: “[c]ontinual use of generic masculine terms such as refer to people of both sexes.”
  2. Drexel University: “inconsiderate jokes” and “inappropriately directed laughter”
  3. Jacksonville State University: “No student shall threaten, offend, or degrade anyone on University owned or operated property”
  4. Mansfield University of Pennsylvania: Any behavior that would “diminish [another’s] self-esteem” or their “striving for competence”
  5. Marshall University: “incivility or disrespect of persons”
  6. San Jose State University: “publicly telling offensive jokes”

Overly broad definitions threaten to trivialize the seriousness of sexual assault and remove the presumption of innocence.


*G. Lukianoff: Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. New York: Encounter Books. 2014. Pages 43-45.