Questions About Rape and Sexual Assault

What is sexual assault?

Under Massachusetts's general law, there are two major categories of sexual assault against adults: rape and indecent assault and battery.


The crime of rape occurs when the offender has "sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse with a person, and compels such person to submit by force and against his/her will, or compels such person to submit by threat of bodily injury."

The inability of an individual to give consent (due to such conditions as unconsciousness, intoxication or mental impairment) would also be classified as rape.

Rape and attempted rape are punishable by up to 20 years' imprisonment. Heavier penalties may apply if the rape causes serious bodily injury, is the result of a group attack, involves drugs used to intentionally incapacitate the victim/survivor, involves the use of a weapon and/or occurs during the commission of certain specified crimes, such as robbery.

Most rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor. This might be someone you are dating, a friend, classmate, co-worker, instructor, relative or casual acquaintance.

It may occur between people who have previously had consensual sexual relations. It is important to remember that acquaintance rape is not a separately defined crime - it is rape.

Indecent Assault and Battery

The crime of indecent assault and battery occurs when the offender, without the victim's consent, intentionally has physical contact of a sexual nature with the victim. This contact may include an offender touching a woman's breasts, or the buttocks or genital area of a man or woman.

Indecent assault and battery may be punished by up to five years' imprisonment.

Rape or indecent assault and battery victimizes women and men, whether straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans-gendered.

Should I report an assault to the police?

Reporting a sexual assault to the police does not commit you to further criminal legal action.

Your name will not be made public since Massachusetts law requires that the identity of a sexual assault survivor be kept confidential.

The earlier you report an assault, the easier it will be for the police to investigate the crime and to prosecute the case successfully, if that is your choice. It helps to preserve your options for the future.

If you wish to have the assailant prosecuted, the police and the district attorney's office will handle the legal proceedings without expense to you. You do not need to hire an attorney.

If the assailant is a Northeastern University student you can file a complaint with the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR) for possible campus disciplinary action.
Students who report a sexual assault may opt to pursue their case through OSCCR, the criminal court system, or both and may request changes in their residential assignment and academic schedule.

What should I do if I am assaulted?

If you are sexually assaulted, tell someone who understands sexual assault. It is an enormous burden to bear alone. Sexual assaults can be terrifying and traumatic. After a sexual assault, it's not uncommon to feel fearful, confused, guilty, ashamed or isolated.

Get to a place where you will be safe from further attack and call the police.

Call a friend or family member for support.

It is extremely important that you seek medical attention immediately.

Do not drink, bathe, douche, brush your teeth, change clothing or comb your hair before a medical exam. It's only natural to want to do these things, but you may be destroying evidence you will need if you decide to prosecute at a later date.

Seek counseling.

How can I reduce the risk of being assaulted?

Avoid excessive use of alcohol and other drugs.

Say no when you mean no. Say yes only when you mean yes.

Be assertive.

Pay attention to what is happening around you. If you feel threatened, do not be embarrassed to ask for help or to leave.

Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable or that you are being pressured into unwanted sexual relations, express your unwillingness, even if you think it is rude.

Be cautious of and avoid dating people who are controlling, display hostility, anger, jealousy, possessiveness or physical aggressiveness.

Carry enough money so that you can leave a situation or call for help, if necessary.

It's important to remember that, regardless of whether or not precautions are taken, sexual assault is NEVER the fault of the victim. Rape and sexual assault are crimes of power, not sex.

What are "date-rape" drugs?

Sexual assaults have happened when drugs have been slipped into people's beverages.

"Date-rape" drugs cause individuals to become disoriented, appear extremely drunk, pass out and experience memory loss - so a sexual assault may not even be remembered.

One drug is called gamma-hydroxybutyrate (known as GHB or Grievous Bodily Harm), a central nervous system depressant used in the treatment of narcolepsy and alcoholism.

Another, flunitrazepam (known as Rohypnol, Roofies or Roachies), is a prescription sleeping medication available only outside the United States.

To prevent the possibility of having your drink drugged, never accept a drink, whether in a cup, glass or closed container, from someone you don't know well, and keep your own drink with you at all times.

If you experience intense feelings of intoxication and disorientation, ask a friend to take you to the hospital, where medical personnel can check for the presence of these drugs in your system.

What are the facts about sexual assault?

The following facts have been provided in conjunction with the University Health & Counseling Services

One in four women will be raped in their lifetime. This means your friends, sisters, mothers and daughters.

Seven to 10 percent of adult males are survivors of sexual abuse or assault.

Persons between the ages of 15 and 25 are the most vulnerable to date or acquaintance rape.

Statistically, the beginning of a student's college career is the time of highest risk for sexual assault.

More than 60 percent of rape survivors are acquainted with their attackers.

Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It is not confined to any race, class, age group or gender.

Contrary to popular belief, false reports of rape are rare. In fact, only one in six rapes are ever reported to police, making it the most under reported violent crime in the U.S.

Rapists are motivated by hostility, fear of inadequacy and the need to control. They use sex as a weapon to hurt, humiliate and intimidate those they assault.

Where can I get help?

There are many concerned and professionally trained people at Northeastern University and in the community who are prepared to help survivors and their support networks in a caring, competent and confidential manner. The goal is to help survivors take actions to feel physically and emotionally safe and to regain control of their lives. The university's services are available to all members of the campus community regardless of where or when the assault happened. On-campus offices can also provide referrals to other area agencies that specialize in assisting those impacted by sexual assault.

On and Off Campus Resources