Rape is a type of sexual assault that occurs without consent and involves forced sexual intercourse or penetration. But not every sexual assault is specifically a rape.

Illustration of one person using their voice to speak out on behalf of other people who have experienced sexual assaultShare on Pinterest
Illustrated by Brittany England

After a sexual assault, it isn’t uncommon to be confused or upset. You may also be angry or scared. You may not know how to react at all. All of these experiences are valid.

There are steps you can take to regain a bit of understanding in the hours and days after an assault. This begins with protecting yourself and getting medical treatment.

Likewise, you can decide if you want to have a sexual assault exam, or collect a “rape kit.” This can help you feel a bit more in control. It can also help you in the future if you decide to file a police report.

Ultimately, what you want to do is your choice. But you should know you’re not alone, no matter what you decide.

This guide can help you find trusted help and dependable resources. It may also answer questions that help you decide what you want to do next.

In the aftermath of an assault, you may have a lot of questions. Chief among them may be, “Was that rape?”

Determining whether your consent was continuous and freely given may help you better understand what happened.

You may find it helpful to consider the following questions.

Were you old enough to consent?

Most states have a legal age of consent. The exact age varies by state.

The age of consent is the minimum age at which someone can legally agree to engage in sexual activity with another person.

If you’re below that age, you’re considered a minor. This means you can’t legally consent to sexual activity with an adult.

Even if a child or teen says yes, it’s rape. Adolescents can’t legally consent.

Did you have the capacity to consent?

Any person who’s consenting to sexual activity must have full power to make that decision. You can’t consent if you’re incapacitated.

People who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol may have diminished capacity.

An intoxicated person can consent as long as they’re able to make informed decisions without pressure or coercion. Here are some signs of intoxication:

  • slurred speech
  • stumbling or wobbling when walking
  • exaggerated emotions and gestures

Consent can’t be given by someone who’s incapacitated. Some signs of incapacitation include:

  • speaking incoherently
  • not being able to walk without assistance
  • confusion, like not knowing the day of the week or where they are
  • passing out

Likewise, people who are incapacitated in another way — for example, they may have an intellectual disability — may not fully understand what’s happening. They can’t, in that case, provide consent.

Any sexual contact, without proper consent, could be considered rape.

Was your consent freely given?

Consent is an explicit agreement. It should be given enthusiastically and without reservation.

If you’re being threatened in any way, you can’t give consent. Being threatened with force, manipulation, or coercion means any “yes” is involuntary.

Sexual contact that happens after a coerced yes is sexual assault or rape.

Were your boundaries crossed?

When you give consent, you can also establish boundaries. Consenting to one act doesn’t mean you consent to all.

For example, you may agree to kissing but not another form of sexual contact, such as fingering.

If a partner goes beyond what you agreed to, they’ve broken your consent. They’ve crossed your established boundaries. This can be considered rape or assault.

Did your boundaries change?

You can also change your mind during a sexual encounter.

If you initially said yes to something (such as penetration) but decided you were no longer OK with it, you can say no. You can even say no in the middle of the act.

If the other individual doesn’t stop, the encounter is no longer consensual. Your consent is being violated. What’s happening may be considered rape or assault.

You may find a familiar scenario in these hypothetical situations. That might help you understand if what you experienced was rape.

While these represent several common scenarios, this isn’t an exhaustive list.

If you think you were raped, your experience is valid. You can use the steps outlined in this article to decide what you should do next.

I initially said yes

Saying yes means you agree to what you expect to happen. But if you aren’t comfortable or want something to stop, you can say no.

You can revoke consent at any moment. When and if you say no, you’re no longer consenting.

Anything the other person does after that can be considered rape or assault.

I said no but they kept asking, so I eventually said yes to get them to stop

Saying no over and over again and then saying yes may be considered coerced consent. In that case, consent isn’t freely given.

Any sexual contact could then be considered rape or assault.

It’s true that some people say no, then change their minds freely. However, that should be a decision that’s made without nagging or pressure from another person.

I said I didn’t want to do something specific, but they tried to do it anyway

You may think that once you say yes, there are no limits. But that’s not the truth.

In any sexual encounter, you can set boundaries. A partner must respect those boundaries. If they don’t, they’ve violated your consent.

If the other person attempts to do something you expressly said you don’t want to do, that can be considered rape or assault.

I asked them to stop doing something and they ignored me

Sure, people get lost in the heat of the moment. But if you ask someone to stop doing something and they don’t, they’re violating your consent.

You should never be forced to continue something just because your partner wants to.

If they don’t respect your request, that can be considered rape or assault.

I said what they were doing hurt, but they kept going

Pain or discomfort is a legitimate reason to tell someone to stop. If they don’t, they’re violating your consent. This may be rape or assault.

They forced my face down or held me in a position I didn’t agree to

If the other person uses force on you during a sexual encounter and you didn’t agree to it, this may be rape or assault.

Here again, you have the right to consent to every element of a sexual act. If you don’t, the other person must stop. If they don’t, they’ve violated your consent.

I said they had to use a condom, but they didn’t or took it off without my knowledge

When two people consent to intercourse, it should also include a discussion about the use of protection.

If one person doesn’t uphold that choice, they’ve violated their partner’s consent. Removal of a barrier like a condom without consent can be considered rape.

I didn’t say no

Some people may feel that saying no can put them at risk for physical harm. For example, if the person assaulting you has a knife or weapon, you may be fearful that any act of defiance could make the situation worse.

No action but a free and explicit yes is consent. Not saying no doesn’t mean you agreed.

If you didn’t say yes or were forced into a sexual act without your consent, this may be rape or assault.

I didn’t physically fight back

Some attackers use physical threats or weapons to force another person to engage in sexual activity with them. In those cases, putting up a fight could put you in greater danger.

But just as not saying no doesn’t mean you consented, not fighting back doesn’t mean you agreed, either.

Consent is a free and unambiguous yes. Anything short of that isn’t true consent, and any sexual contact could be considered rape or assault.

I don’t remember what happened

Memory loss can occur with “date rape” drugs like GHB. Excessive alcohol consumption can make memories fuzzy, too.

It’s also important to consider that the body can respond to traumatic events by suppressing any memory of the experience.

Even if you have no memory of the assault, it could still be rape.

A physical exam may be able to determine if you were raped. Any evidence collected from your exam may also help law enforcement officials fill in the blanks if you can’t.

I was asleep or unconscious

If you were asleep or unconscious, you couldn’t give consent. Any sexual contact without consent is assault.

I was drunk

People who are incapacitated can’t give consent.

Although it’s possible to give consent after having a few drinks, your ability to do so is diminished with each drink.

You can’t consent if you’re no longer lucid or coherent.

They were drunk

Alcohol isn’t an alibi. They’re responsible for their actions, even if they were drinking.

If they didn’t get your consent, any sexual contact could be considered rape or assault.

I was high

As with alcohol, it’s possible to give consent while under the influence of certain drugs. It all depends on whether you were able to make an informed decision.

If your mental state is completely incapacitated, you can’t consent. Any sexual contact could then be considered rape or assault.

They were high

Actions still have consequences, even if the other person was high or using drugs.

If they didn’t get your consent, any sexual contact could be considered rape or assault.

We were friends

“Acquaintance rape” or “date rape” isn’t at all uncommon. In fact, more than one-third of rapes are committed by a friend or someone the survivor knew.

It may be difficult to understand how someone you know and trusted could do this to you. But any sexual contact without consent is assault, even if you know that person.

We were in a relationship

Consent must be given in every sexual encounter. Just because you said yes once doesn’t mean you agree to every sexual encounter in the future.

Having an ongoing relationship or a history of a relationship isn’t a form of consent. It just means you have a personal bond of some kind with that person.

This doesn’t dismiss the need for consent. If they don’t have your consent, any sexual contact could be considered rape or assault.

Rape is:

Forced sexual intercourse or penetration with a sex organ or object that occurs without consent.

No action provides consent except an unequivocal agreement.

Sexual assault is:

A broader form of assault that includes any sexual activity, contact, or behavior that’s performed without explicit and enthusiastic consent.

In short, rape is a type of sexual assault, but not every sexual assault is a rape.

Sexual assault may include, but isn’t limited to, the following:

  • rape
  • attempted rape
  • harassment
  • fondling
  • unwanted touching, either over or under clothes
  • incest
  • child sexual abuse
  • molestation
  • unwanted oral sex
  • flashing
  • forced posing for sexual pictures
  • forced performance for sexual video

Force is:

The use of a weapon, threat, or other form of coercion to pressure a person into a sexual activity or sexual contact against their will.

Not all forms of force are physical. Some people may use emotional coercion, such as threats against family members, or manipulation to get another person to have sex with them.

The use of force means a person can’t give consent. Any sexual encounter that occurs is automatically nonconsensual.

If you believe you were raped, it’s important to remember that what happened isn’t your fault. You don’t have to go through this experience alone.

The following sections can help you decide what, if anything, you want to do next. Whatever you do is your choice. No one can or should force you to make any decision you aren’t comfortable with.

Consider getting a sexual assault examination

A sexual assault forensic examination, or a “rape kit,” is a way for specially trained healthcare providers to collect possible evidence.

This process allows them to gather DNA and materials from your clothes, your body, and your belongings. If you decide later to press charges, this could come in handy.

However, it’s important for the quality of the kit that you don’t shower, change clothes, or otherwise alter your appearance from the time of the assault to the time of collection. Doing so may accidentally remove valuable evidence.

Consider whether you want to make a police report

You don’t have to decide if you want to press charges right away. You’ve got time to weigh your options.

You can also talk to a law enforcement officer or representative regardless of whether you want to press charges. They can explain the process to you and connect you with an advocate or other resources.

Getting answers to any questions you may have can help you decide what you want to do.

Consider whether you want legal support

You may have questions about your legal options after a rape. You may want to discuss the process of filing a report and pressing charges.

Legal counselors can help you with these questions. They may also join you in court if your case goes to trial.

Some legal resources are free. Others may cost money, but many are willing to provide assistance at a reduced cost to sexual assault survivors.

Hotlines can help connect you to resources, as can police departments.

Consider whether you want mental health support

You may experience a range of emotions and feelings in the aftermath of a possible rape. These are all valid.

Talking with someone else about your feelings and what happened may help you alleviate worries and decide what you should do next.

You may find that a friend or family member can provide this comfort and guidance.

A therapist or counselor may also be a good option. These terms are used to describe people who can provide mental healthcare, such as talk therapy.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) uses the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673) to connect you to a trained staff member.

The hotline sorts your call using the first six digits of your phone number. This way, you’re provided with resources in your immediate area.

All calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline are confidential. Your call won’t be reported to local or state officials unless your state’s laws require it.

If you’re experiencing domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224) for help with questions or resources. This number is staffed 24/7.

Trained advocates will help you find resources and tools to get help, counseling, or safety.

Young people who believe they were raped by a partner may also call Loveisrespect (866-331-9474). This confidential hotline is open 24/7 and can help you find support if you’re in an abusive or unhealthy relationship.