Aerial photo of campus overlooking the flatirons.

Sexual violence 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 the majority of sexual assaults are carried out by people we know: friends, acquaintances, classmates, co-workers, partners, exes, neighbors or someone a person may have met online or at a party. This often contradicts what we believe and can make it more difficult to recognize an experience as assault.

It’s important to know that sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, gender identity or sexual orientation. However, it disproportionately affects women, bisexual and transgender people, and young adults.

If sexual assault is something that has happened to you—it’s not a result of who you are or something you did (such as dressing a certain way, drinking alcohol or other behaviors). This misperception is often based on social stigma that blames the targets of abuse. The reality is that some people choose to exert their will over others and operate from a sense of entitlement to someone else's body. It is a choice to perpetrate sexual assault and never the survivor’s fault.


2. Consent is key

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

Consent must be established before people engage in any sexual activity. This gives us the opportunity to set personal boundaries and limits and 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. 

Sexual assault can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Unwanted penetration or contact, including vaginal, anal or oral sex (this includes penetration by an object or another person’s body part)
  • Unwanted touching of private body parts (e.g. butt, breasts, genitals) 

Keep in mind that sexual assault can also include attempted assault using any of the methods listed above. Additional forms of sexual misconduct include sexual harassment, exploitation (e.g. sharing nudes, videotaping sexual acts without consent, etc.) as well as intimate partner abuse such as dating violence and stalking.

If you or someone you know isn’t sure whether or not 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 with their experiences and learn about their rights and options. Remember, you don’t have to know what to call it in order to get support. Give them a call at 303-492-8855 or check out their drop in hours online.


4. Sexual assault can be preventable

As Buffs, we have the opportunity to look out for our friends, speak up about sketchy behaviors and situations, and take steps to create a safer community. Here are some ways that you can help prevent sexual assault:

Learn to identify high-risk situations.

We can get better at recognizing situations where someone may be pursuing a person sexually in an unwanted way or when consent isn’t possible. 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.

Be an effective bystander.

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 targeted by a perpetrator because of their level of intoxication, or if a person has been intentionally drugged in an attempt to facilitate sexual assault. Impaired or incapacitated people are usually unable to protect or advocate for themselves.

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 perpetrators of 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 friends behind.

Commit to not ditching someone if they have too much to drink and/or become unwilling to stick with your plan to stay together. This decreases the likelihood that someone will have to rely on less known friends or strangers to get home, which can create risk for something bad happening. Consider whether someone offering to walk a person home or look after someone who has had too much to drink is trustworthy and being helpful or is potentially looking for access to someone who is vulnerable.

Trust your instincts.

If something feels weird or wrong, it probably is. If you see a situation that ever feels uncomfortable or unsafe, follow your gut. It’s okay to make up an excuse to interject or interrupt something that doesn’t seem right  (e.g. you don’t feel well and need them to leave with you, you need them to check on a friend, you want them to go with you to get something to eat, etc.) to disrupt an uncomfortable or problematic situation.

Learn more about bystander strategies you can use to interrupt problematic situations


5. Support is available

Resources are available for students who have experienced sexual assault, who want to support friends and survivors, or who to learn more about sexual assault prevention. Students often reach out to friends or family members when something bad happens. Having the skills to respond effectively without blame or judgment is important to keep in mind. 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.

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. Anonymously 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.

Supporting Survivors: Student Training

Traumatic experiences happen every day and the CU Boulder community is not exempt. Friends, family, and mentors are often the first to be told about these experiences. How one responds matters as it can impact healing, as well as whether the survivors will seek additional support.

  • Date: Sept. 21
  • Time: 3:30 - 4:30 p.m.
  • Location: Wardenburg West Solarium (3rd floor)

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, but is not limited to resident advisors, teaching assistants, professors, graduate instructors, academic advisors, coaches or other university employees with supervisory 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 the 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.

 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