students sitting outside on a rock

Sexual assault is all too common in our society and can have lasting impacts on individuals and communities. Here are five things everyone should know about sexual assault. 

1. Sexual assault can happen to anyone 

The reality is that most sexual assaults are carried out by people who know the person they assault, including friends, acquaintances, classmates, co-workers, partners, exes, neighbors, dates or someone they met online or at a party. This often contradicts what people believe about who commits sexual assault and can make it more difficult to recognize when an assault happens. 

Sexual assault can happen to anyone, though young adults, women, people with disabilities and those who identify as bisexual or transgender are disproportionately impacted. This stems from the fact that people who commit sexual assault take advantage of situational vulnerabilities to exert their will and operate from a sense of entitlement to someone else’s body. 

2. Consent is key 

People often think that consent is something that you ‘give’ or ‘get’ in a sexual situation. In reality, consent is an ongoing agreement that people arrive at together. Consent can include words or actions that create mutual understanding, clear willingness and acceptance of any sexual activity. 

Consent must be established before people engage in a sexual activity. This gives each person the opportunity to set personal boundaries and to understand the boundaries of others. 

3. Sexual assault can include a wide range of experiences

Sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual contact or behaviors that a person did not or was not able to consent to.  

This can include, but is not limited to, the following: 

  • Unwanted penetration, including vaginal, anal or oral sex. This also includes penetration by an object or another person’s body part(s). 
  • Unwanted touching of someone’s butt, breasts or genitals. 

Keep in mind that attempted touching, contact and penetration are also considered sexual assault. Additional forms of sexual harm include sexual harassment, exploitation (e.g., sharing nudes, videotaping sexual acts without consent, etc.) as well as abuse by an intimate partner.  

Both sexual assault and sexual misconduct refer to legal thresholds under campus policy and criminal law. Harmful sexual experiences can still happen outside of these parameters. 

If you or someone you know isn’t sure whether an experience may have been sexual assault, confidential advocate counselors on campus are available for free and confidential consultations, trauma-focused counseling and support. Advocate counselors with the Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) are here to help students, staff and faculty understand and process their experiences as well as learn about their rights and options. Remember, you don’t have to know what to make of an experience to get support. Give them a call at 303-492-8855 or schedule an appointment. 

4. Sexual assault can be prevented

Buffs should look out for each other, speak up about concerning behaviors and situations and take steps to create better interactions and a safer community.  

Here are some ways to help improve and practice bystander skills: 

Learn to identify high-risk situations

Keep an eye on people who hit on the drunkest person at a party, encourage others to drink, try to get a drunk person alone or away from their friends, are persistent about pursuing someone sexually or commit low-level boundary violations. It’s not that people don’t understand consent, it’s that some people aren’t interested in honoring it. 

Intervene in concerning situations

If you see someone in a potentially harmful or high-risk situation, you can do something to intervene. Bystanders are particularly important in situations where someone is being pursued by someone else because of their level of intoxication, or if a person has been intentionally drugged in an attempt to facilitate sexual assault.  

Keep track of friends

At parties, high-proof alcohol mixed with sweet punch or juice might be served to increase the likelihood that people will become intoxicated. It’s common for those who perpetrate sexual assault to encourage alcohol consumption or target those who are intoxicated. It’s important to check in with a friend if you observe any sudden changes (e.g., difficulty standing, disorientation, etc.) that might indicate they’ve had too much to drink. 

Don’t leave your people behind

Commit to not ditching someone if they have too much to drink and/or become unwilling to stick with the plan to stay together. Sticking together decreases the likelihood that someone will have to rely on lesser-known friends or strangers to get home. It’s also important to consider whether someone who is offering to walk a person home or look after an intoxicated person is trustworthy or is potentially looking for access to someone who is vulnerable.

Trust your instincts

If a situation feels weird or wrong, it probably is. If you think someone’s behavior feels uncomfortable or unsafe, follow your gut. It’s okay to make up an excuse to interject or interrupt a situation that feels ‘off.’ You can act like you don’t feel well and need them to leave with you, you need them to check on a friend or you want them to go with you to get something to eat. 


5. Support is available

Resources are available for those who have experienced sexual assault, who want to support friends and survivors, or who want to learn more about sexual assault prevention. Students often reach out to friends or family members first when something bad happens. Having the skills to respond effectively without blame or judgment is vital. Learn more skills for supporting your friends through the aftermath of a traumatic event

Here are some of the resources available to support survivors and friends at CU Boulder: 

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term, trauma-focused counseling services for students, grad students, faculty and staff who have experienced a traumatic, disturbing or life-disruptive event, including sexual assault and harassment. 

Confidential resource

Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC)

OIEC implements and enforces university policies around sexual assault, intimate partner abuse and stalking, and other forms of sexual misconduct. If you or someone you know at CU has been impacted, reports can be filed online. Anonymous reporting is an option as well. 

Don't Ignore It

Explore your options for seeking confidential support, reporting concerns and learning skills for helping others. If something seems off, it probably is—don't ignore it. 

Mandatory reporting policy

All university employees who have the authority to hire, promote, discipline, evaluate, grade, formally advise or direct faculty, staff or students are considered "responsible employees" and are required to report alleged misconduct to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC). This includes resident advisors, teaching assistants, professors, graduate instructors, academic advisors, coaches or other university employees with oversight authority. 

Any sexual misconduct, intimate partner abuse (including dating and domestic violence), stalking, protected-class discrimination or harassment, or related retaliation disclosed to a responsible employee must be reported to OIEC. The person impacted has the choice about whether and how they want to proceed. Reporting is required to help ensure that people understand their rights and options and the resources available. 

 Note: Confidential campus resources are exempt from CU Boulder’s mandatory reporting policy, including the Office of Victim Assistance (OVA), Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) and Ombuds.

Learn more about mandatory reporting