Sexual Assault

One of the most important resources for students at UCSF related to sexual assault/sexual harassment is the CARE Advocate’s office. The CARE Advocate is a confidential resource for any student with a question or concern regarding sexual assault or harassment, domestic or dating violence, or stalking. The CARE Advocate can help explain all available resources.

Useful Definitions:

Although these definitions seem clear, people are often confused as to whether they have been sexually assaulted or not, or even if they have been raped or not. This is particularly true when the survivor knows their assailant, as they may often feel that they somehow led the person on, or that they are in some way responsible for the assault. In many cases, survivors may feel that because they were not seriously hurt physically, it wasn’t really rape. This is not true. ANY sexual contact forced upon you by someone against your will is illegal, against the UCSF Student Code of Conduct and against UCSF University Policy. It is illegal and wrong, even if you have been sexual with that person in the past or are currently being sexual, but don’t wish to go past certain limits.

Examples include:

  • A stranger grabs your breast at a party or in a bar
  • A date insists that you have sex even after you tell them you don’t want to
  • Your romantic partner of 4 years forces you to have sex
  • Someone gets you drunk or slips a rape drug into your drink in order to get you to have sex with them


Personal safety can be a controversial issue because people sometimes feel that personal safety tips or self-defense classes are a way to place the responsibility for preventing sexual assault or intimate partner violence on the person who is least responsible.

While it is true that the only person responsible for the violence is the person who commits it, there are things that we can do to keep ourselves safe and take back the control that the rapist or violent partner is trying to take away. Often, the experience of taking steps to protect yourself can make you feel more powerful and in control and can also be part of the process of healing for those who have been assaulted previously. Although there are no guarantees that certain techniques or actions will prevent an assault, they can decrease the risk of one or help you to escape an assault in progress. It is also important to remember that if you are assaulted, this does not mean that you failed at protecting yourself or in some way are responsible for being attacked. The blame lies solely with the attacker, whether that person is a stranger, an acquaintance, a date, a partner, or a family member. Furthermore, if you are attacked and do not use the techniques outlined here or in a self-defense class, this does not mean that you deserved it or didn’t resist enough. A physical response to an attack may not be safe in some situations. Only you can be the best judge of how to respond to an attack, and no one has the right to question your actions or the decisions you made that allowed you to survive the assault. It is important to note that many people find themselves becoming more fearful and hyper-vigilant when they begin to focus on personal safety. Although the risks are real and there are steps you can take to increase your personal safety, these steps are intended to increase your sense of empowerment and safety, rather than a sense of victimization and fear.

If you find yourself becoming very anxious and fearful about sexual assault, or compulsive about personal safety, it may help to talk to someone about your fears. This may be especially likely if you are, or someone close to you is, a survivor of an attempted or completed sexual assault.

Contrary to popular belief, most sexual assaults are planned. The assailant may not plan to sexually assault or rape a specific individual, but they usually do plan to assault someone. This plan may range from a specific plan to find someone to rape to a general intention of “scoring.” Although this fact can be disheartening, it also gives us an edge in protecting ourselves from sexual assault. Because assaults are usually planned, there are typical behaviors and patterns that you can be aware of and watch out for. This section will outline some of these typical patterns and suggest various things you can do to keep yourself safe. There are three areas to consider in thinking about personal safety - the environment, the assailant, and yourself.


Protecting Yourself From Intimate Partner Violence

The physical and verbal skills used for protection from any attack are much the same; those discussed in the section on sexual assault will therefore be applicable to intimate partner violence. However, intimate partner violence is often a different situation, because the person who is attacking you is someone you love and trust, or have trusted. People in battering relationships are usually physically, sexually, and emotionally abused in a systematic and repetitive manner. Threats of future violence and threats to hurt the victim’s family, friends, children, or pets can make it harder to find ways to defend themselves. Additionally, it is more difficult to physically harm a loved one, which can make physical self-defense difficult. A fear of escalating a fight and increasing the violence directed towards them can also stand in the way of fighting back, though many people in violent relationships do fight back on a regular basis.

The best defense against intimate partner violence is to be alert to the signs of a violent relationship discussed in the section on intimate partner violence. If you are concerned that your relationship may become violent, find someone to talk to, such as a counselor at The Counseling Center or a battered women’s shelter.

If you are already in a violent relationship, help from others may be your best resource. Battered women’s shelters, hotlines, and counselors can all help you in protecting your safety. The police can also provide protection through restraining orders and arresting the batterer. If you aren’t prepared to report your partner to the police, or to leave the relationship, you may find it helpful to pack a small bag with clothes, money, keys, and important documents and hide it in your house or car. If your partner becomes violent and you fear for your safety, this bag can make it easier to leave temporarily - you can find a safe place to stay and have necessary items with you. A Personalized Safety Plan, which you can develop with the help of a counselor at The Counseling Center, or a battered women’s shelter, can also be extremely useful.

Defense from intimate partner violence is very different from defense from a one-time sexual assault. It is harder to leave a partner, especially if you live with him/her, than it is to escape from a stranger or even an acquaintance or date. In this situation, you will probably need to rely on others and available resources to help you protect your safety.