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Key Definitions

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Stanford's Definition of Consent

Conduct prohibited by Stanford's policies

Consent is an affirmative nonverbal act or verbal statement expressing consent to sexual activity by a person that is informed, freely given and mutually understood. It is the responsibility of person(s) involved in sexual activity to ensure that he/she/they have the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Consent to one act by itself does not constitute consent to another act. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent. Whether one has taken advantage of a position of influence over another may be a factor in determining consent.

Prohibited Sexual Conduct

Prohibited Sexual Conduct is the umbrella term that Stanford uses to collectively define different types of misconduct relating to assault, violence or exploitation of a sexual nature, or connected to an intimate relationship. Prohibited Sexual Conduct includes (a) Student-on-Student Sexual Harassment, (b) Sexual Misconduct, (c) Sexual Assault, (d) Stalking, (e) Relationship (dating or domestic) Violence, (f) Violation of University Directive or Court Order relating to Prohibited Sexual Conduct or allegations of Prohibited Sexual Conduct and (g) Retaliation relating to Prohibited Sexual Conduct or Allegations of Prohibited Sexual Conduct. Under federal law, Prohibited Sexual Conduct is a severe form of sexual harassment. (See Administrative Guide Memo 1.7.1 for more information regarding Sexual Harassment in the workplace and Administrative Guide Memo 1.7.2 for information about Consensual Sexual or Romantic Relationships in the Workplace and Educational Setting.)

Student-on-Student Sexual Harassment

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's academic performance or creating an intimidating or hostile academic or student living environment.

Determining what constitutes sexual harassment depends on the specific facts and context in which the conduct occurs. Sexual harassment may take many forms:  subtle and indirect or blatant and overt. For example, it may:

  • Be conduct toward an individual of the opposite sex or the same sex
  • Occur between peers or between individuals in a hierarchical relationship
  • Be aimed at coercing an individual to participate in an unwanted sexual relationship or have the effect of causing an individual to change behavior
  • Consist of repeated actions or may even arise from a single incident if sufficiently egregious

Whether the unwanted sexual conduct rises to the level of creating an intimidating or hostile environment is determined using both a subjective standard and an objective standard.

Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct is the commission of a sexual act, whether by a stranger or non-stranger and regardless of the gender of any party, which occurs without indication of consent.

1. The following acts or attempted acts can be the subject of a Sexual Misconduct or Sexual Assault charge:

a) vaginal or anal intercourse;
b) digital penetration;
c) oral copulation; or
d) penetration with a foreign object

2.  Additional Acts of Sexual Misconduct

The following completed acts can be the subject of a Sexual Misconduct charge:

a) unwanted touching or kissing of an intimate body part (whether directly or through clothing); or
b) recording, photographing, transmitting, viewing or distributing intimate or sexual images without the knowledge and consent of all parties involved.

Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is an act described above (sexual misconduct) accomplished by use of (a) force, violence, duress or menace; or (b) inducement of incapacitation or knowingly taking advantage of an incapacitated person.

Definitions of force, violence, duress or menace

The following definitions (drawn from California law) inform whether an act was accomplished by force, violence, duress or menace:

An act is accomplished by force if a person overcomes the other person’s will by use of physical force or induces reasonable fear of immediate bodily injury

  • Violence means the use of physical force to cause harm or injury.
  • Duress means a direct or implied threat of force, violence, danger, hardship, or retribution that is enough to cause a reasonable person of ordinary sensitivity to do or submit to something that he or she would not otherwise do or submit to. When deciding whether the act was accomplished by duress, all the circumstances, including the age of the impacted party and his or her relationship to the responding party, are relevant factors.
  • Menace means a threat, statement, or act showing intent to injure someone.


Incapacitation means that a person lacks the ability to voluntarily agree to sexual activity because the person is asleep, unconscious, under the influence of an anesthetizing or intoxicating substance such that the person does not have control over his/her body, is otherwise unaware that sexual activity is occurring, or is unable to appreciate the nature and quality of the act. Incapacitation is not the same as legal intoxication.

A party who engages in sexual conduct with a person who is incapacitated under circumstances in which a reasonable sober person in similar circumstances would have known the person to be incapacitated is responsible for sexual misconduct.  It is not a defense that the Responding Party’s belief in affirmative consent arose from his or her intoxication.

Stranger Assault and Nonstranger Assault

For the purposes of Stanford’s policy, a nonstranger is someone known to the Complainant, whether through a casual meeting or through a longstanding relationship, including a dating or domestic relationship. A stranger is someone unknown to the Complainant at the time of the assault. California law requires universities to describe how a school will respond to instances of stranger and nonstranger assaults: Stanford applies the same policies for both stranger and nonstranger assaults.


Stalking is the repeated following, watching or harassing of a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to (a) fear for his or her safety or the safety of others, or (b) suffer substantial emotional distress.

Relationship Violence

Violence is Stanford’s umbrella term that includes dating and domestic violence. Relationship violence is physical violence relating to a current or former romantic or intimate relationship regardless of the length of the relationship or gender/gender identity of the individuals in the relationship, including conduct that would cause a reasonable person to be fearful for his or her safety.

Violation of a University Directive or Court Order

A violation of a University Directive is the failure to comply with a directive issued by the University that restricts the activities of an individual in connection with an allegation or finding of Prohibited Sexual Conduct. A violation of a court order is the failure to comply with any formal order issued by a state or federal court or authorized police officer that restricts a student’s access to another Stanford community member, such as an emergency, temporary or permanent restraining order.


It is a violation of this policy to retaliate against any person making a complaint of Prohibited Sexual Conduct or against any person participating in the investigation of (including testifying as a witness to) any such allegation of Prohibited Sexual Conduct. Retaliation should be reported promptly to the Title IX Coordinator. Individuals engaging in retaliation are subject to discipline (for students and faculty), employment action (for employees) and/or removal from responsibilities or campus. Retaliation includes direct or indirect intimidation, threats, coercion, harassment or other forms of discrimination against any individual who has brought forward a concern or participated in the University’s Title IX process. Both parties are prohibited from engaging in intimidating actions directly or through support persons that reasonably could deter either a party or a witness from participating in a Title IX investigation or hearing.