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Glossary of Sexual Violence Terms

This glossary contains common terms, definitions, and acronyms related to sexual violence and system response, such as the criminal legal system or in healthcare.

Common Sexual Violence Terms

As a way to perpetrate a sexual attack, alcohol or other drugs are used to subdue the victim. Many drugs have been used for this purpose; some of the more common are Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. However, it must be pointed out, that although these drugs are used for sexual violence, alcohol remains the most common substance used to subdue victims.

Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all involve a person or group repeatedly trying to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable. Much of bullying that occurs in elementary, middle, and high schools is related to sexuality, race, and gender issues. Bullying and sexual harassment often go hand-in-hand in school environments.

Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration that occurs between people who are known to each other. This relationship may be a dating relationship, a blind date or “hook up.” They may know one another well or only briefly. The issue is not identifying who the perpetrator is; it is rather identifying how force or coercion is manifested.

Paying someone else for sexual activities, or for sexually graphic materials or behaviors. Some forms of commercial sexual exploitation include: stripping, prostitution, nude bars, live sex shows, peep shows, trafficking people.

Overt physical or emotional aggression is not always a part of child sexual abuse. By definition, any sexual contact with a child is illegal. Offenders who target children use a variety of strategies to engage a child: force, trickery, bribery, blackmail. Child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by another child, a young person, or an adult. Child sexual abuse includes Incest.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the term used to refer to the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia. The most severe form is infibulation. The procedure consists of clitoridectomy (where all, or part of, the clitoris is removed), excision (removal of all, or part of, the labia minora), and cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then stitched or held together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. A small hole is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape. The vast majority (85%) of genital mutilations performed in Africa consist of clitoridectomy or excision. The least radical procedure consists of the removal of the clitoral hood. While this may be an accepted practice in some cultures, it is illegal in the State of Minnesota.

Sexual abuse that is committed by one family member against another. Also called familial sexual abuse, incest can be committed by a parent, sibling, other family member, or an unrelated person living with, or treated as part of the family.

When rape/sexual assault occurs between two people who have or have had a consensual sexual relationship it is understood as Intimate Partner Sexual Violence. Sometimes this is referred to as “marital rape.” Intimate partner sexual violence is often a part of relationships in which other types of violence or battering are occurring. IPSV can occur in dating relationships, marriages or long term gay or lesbian relationships, and is certainly unlawful regardless of previous sexual contact.

Sexually graphic material that combines sex with violence, mistreatment, humiliation, or abuse. This includes the making of pornography when it involves violence, bribery and coercion, even if none is depicted. There is not agreement among those who are working to end sexual violence that pornography is automatically and by nature abusive. Expressions of sexuality in our culture are often targeted, misunderstood, and demonized. Child pornography is any sexually graphic material or any material produced for the purpose of sexual arousal that depicts children, and is always unlawful.

Inappropriate use of sexual actions and words by professionals and volunteers within a helping context. Any sexual interaction between helping professionals and clients is sexual violation (even if the victim sees it as consensual.) Helping professionals are bound ethically and/or legally to abstain from sexual interaction with clients, patients, and others they serve. Helping professions can include counseling, psychology, social work, therapy, health care, clergy, law, victim advocacy, education, and public health.

Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration and/or touch is defined in Minnesota Statute as varying degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC). CSC in the first through fourth degrees are felonies in Minnesota; fifth degree CSC is a gross misdemeanor. Penetration may be of the victim or forcing the victim to penetrate the actor; penetration can be accomplished with either a body part or other object. Similarly, contact can be sexual contact with the victim or forcing a victim to touch the actor.

The terms sexual assault and sexual violence are often used interchangeably, however, both terms are used to describe a wide variety of abuses. Rape is a term that is often used to describe forced penetration but forced touch is also a serious crime in Minnesota.

Unwanted verbal sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace, school and other settings (such as public transportation, shopping malls, community events, social gatherings, places of worship, health care facilities) and can create an intimidating or hostile environment for the victim. The perception of the victim, not the intent of the harasser, determines whether particular words or actions are harassing.

Stalking is defined primarily by state statute and while statutes vary, stalking is usually understood as a pattern of conduct that places a person in fear for their safety. The term “stalking” is commonly used to describe patterns of behaviors or acts used by a person to harass, threaten, or intimidate another. The variety of behaviors displayed by stalkers is limited only by the creativity of the stalkers themselves.

This is an organized form of sexual abuse, frequently involving numerous perpetrators and victims and used to control, condition, of “initiate” victims. This type of ritualized abuse may be repeated frequently and be perpetrated under the guise of a spiritual expression or initiation into a gang or other secret or selective group.

Criminal Legal Terms and Acronyms

A term for a finding by the jury (or judge if the case was tried to a judge alone) that the defendant is not guilty. An acquittal is final, and cannot be appealed by the state.

A guilty plea made by the defendant where he or she does not admit to actually committing the crime, but agrees that there is sufficient evidence that he or she could be found guilty.

A system whereby the Minnesota Court of Appeals or Minnesota Supreme Court review decisions made by the trial court. There are certain limitations on when either the state or the defendant may file an appeal.

The first appearance in court by the defendant after being charged with the crime. The purpose of the hearing is to assure that the defendant understands the charges against him or her, and to allow time to either hire an attorney or apply to have an attorney appointed. The conditions of release are set, and the date of the next hearing is set. In some counties it is called a Rule 5 hearing.

Taking the suspect or defendant into the physical custody of law enforcement. Many offenders are not arrested, but simply show up to court when they have hearings.

An amount of money which must be posted with the court for the defendant to be out of jail during the proceedings. If the defendant makes all court appearances, the money is returned at the end of proceedings. If the defendant fails to make court appearances, the bail may be forfeited by the court and would not be returned to the defendant.

A trial by the judge alone where no jury is involved. A defendant may waive the right to have a jury, and have the case heard by a judge in a bench (or court) trial.

An act which is against the law and punishable by jail or prison.

A set of rules the defendant must follow in order to remain out of jail while the criminal case is pending. The conditions might include no contact with the victim or his or her family, no use of alcohol or drugs, or other measures to ensure the safety of the victim.

Postponing a hearing until a later date, usually because one of the parties requests it and it is approved by the judge. Continuances are a common part of the criminal process.

The process of reimbursing victims of crime for out-of-pocket expenses they received because of being victimized by crime. One agency that helps to reimburse victims is the Crime Victims Reparations Board of the Office of Justice Programs.

The person who claims to be the victim of a crime, and reports the crime to the police.

A document which formally charges the defendant with one or more criminal offenses. The document is drafted and filed with the court by the prosecuting attorney, and gives a brief description of the criminal acts committed by the defendant.

A finding that the defendant is guilty, either by guilty plea of the defendant, or by a judge or jury after trial. The record of the conviction is maintained by the state for future reference.

The schedule of all the cases before the court. The schedule is maintained by the court administrator’s office.

The person charged with a crime in the complaint. Defense Attorney: The attorney representing the defendant as a client.

The process by which the state and the defendant exchange information with each other about the case. The state must provide copies of all police reports and records to the defendant before trial.

See Omnibus Hearing.

The highest of the four levels of crime: it is punishable by more than one year in prison, ranging from 12 months and a day to life without parole.

See Arraignment.

A group of residents of the county where the criminal act took place, who are convened by the prosecuting attorney to decide if charges should be brought, and if so, which charges. They listen to live testimony from witnesses and review the physical evidence collected by police. Their proceedings are secret, and if they decide charges should be brought, they hand down a document called an indictment. At this stage, the defendant has only been charged with a crime, and has not been found guilty.

The second highest of the four levels of crime: it is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine.

The county or city which has the authority to prosecute the defendant for a criminal act—usually the place where the crime occurred.

The third highest of the four levels of crime. A misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

A hearing held usually at the request of the defendant to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to continue on to trial, and/or to determine whether the police followed all constitutional and statutory requirements in their investigation. The purpose of the hearing is to request that certain evidence be “suppressed” – or kept out of the trial – because the defendant argues that the police violated his or her rights. In some counties it is called a Rasmussen hearing. It may also be called an Evidentiary Hearing.

The person who commits a crime – often used to refer to one who commits a sex offense.

The fourth highest of the four levels of crime: it is punishable by a fine only and is technically not considered to be a crime. A speeding ticket is an example of a petty misdemeanor.

The process of discussions between the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and sometimes the judge about whether the defendant will plead guilty to one charge or another. These discussions include which charge the defendant might plead guilty to, and what the sentence might be. The victim of a crime has the right to be contacted and informed of plea negotiations, and to be heard about his or her opinion of them.

A background investigation by a probation officer to provide the judge with as much information as possible before sentencing a defendant. The victim of a crime should be contacted for input in the PSI as to the effect of the crime upon him or her.

A hearing where the prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, defendant, and judge meet to discuss plea negotiations and the legal issues that might come up if a trial is held.

A sentence where the defendant is under the supervision of a probation officer, and which might include county jail time, electric home monitoring, a fine, restitution (repayment) to the victim, counseling or treatment, a letter of apology, or other terms which might prevent the defendant from committing future crime.

The attorney who works for either the county or city government, and seeks to prove that the defendant committed the crime, and hold him or her accountable for the criminal acts. The prosecuting attorney represents the people through the government, and does not personally represent the victim of a crime.

An attorney employed by the government to represent defendants who cannot afford an attorney. Release on Own Recognizance (ROR). This means that the defendant will not be required to post bail, but could still be ordered by the court to follow certain conditions of release. In some counties it is called personal recognizance.

Public money that is used to assist a victim of crime with some financial needs that arise because of crime. Victims apply to a state office for reimbursement.

An amount of money that the defendant must pay to the victim for the victim’s out-of-pocket costs due to the defendant’s criminal acts. Rule 412 Hearing: A hearing under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 412, which controls when and if the previous sexual history of a victim of sexual assault might be introduced as evidence in trial. It might be held at the same time as the omnibus hearing, or closer to trial.

See Arraignment.

The hearing following the arraignment at which the attorney appears with the defendant, where the conditions of release might be reviewed, and where the defense attorney usually requests either an omnibus hearing or a trial date. Sometimes this hearing is called the “uncontested omnibus hearing,” and sometimes it is combined with the arraignment into one hearing date.

Once a defendant has either plead guilty or has been found guilt at trial, the judge must determine an appropriate consequence, or sentence. The court will normally order a Pre-Sentence Investigation before the sentencing, and will consider the positions of the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and the victim before deciding on an appropriate sentence. Sentencing in felony crimes involves following the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, a chart which gives a suggested sentence based on the severity of the crime committed and the criminal history of the defendant.

A chart developed to guide or suggest similar sentences around the state for similar crimes. The sentence suggested depends upon the severity of the crime of which the defendant was convicted, and the extent of criminal history of the defendant. The guidelines will suggest whether prison or probation are appropriate, and if prison is suggested, the length of the prison sentence.

A court order requiring a person to appear in court and testify truthfully.

A document ordering the defendant to appear in court on a certain date for the arraignment to begin the criminal proceedings.

A process in court where either a jury or a judge alone will listen to witnesses, observe photographs or other items of evidence, and decide whether it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime(s) with which he or she was charged. The prosecuting attorney will present the witnesses and evidence first, after which the defense attorney may or may not call witnesses. Each attorney may ask questions of the witnesses called by the other attorney, and each may address the judge or jury to argue the case. Once all the information has been given to the jury or judge, the jury or judge will “deliberate” and make a decision as to whether the defendant’s guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury’s decision must be unanimous.

Importantly, many times a jury may decide that they cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty, even though they think possibly he or she committed the crime. The law requires a high level of proof to find someone guilty of a crime, and the level is sometimes not reached even when the defendant actually committed the crime.

A statement submitted by the victim of the crime if the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty. The purpose of the statement is to tell the judge about how the crime has affected the victim personally, and the outcome that the victim would like to see.

A person who “ushers” the victim through the criminal justice system, providing information, resources, and support to victims of crime.

If the court decides that the defendant should be arrested, either at the very beginning of the proceedings, or after he or she failed to show up at a court hearing, the court will issue a warrant authorizing law enforcement to place the defendant under arrest.

Common Acronyms

A&D: Probation arrest and detention warrant

ADC: Adult detention center

BAC: Blood alcohol content

SANE – sexual assault nurse examiner

BCA: Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

CSC: Criminal sexual conduct

DNA: A medical term for genetic code

DOC: Department of Corrections

HRO: Harassment restraining order

LE: Law enforcement

LEC: Law enforcement center

MNCASA – Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

OFP: Order for protection

OJP: Office of Justice Programs

PD: Public defender or police department

PO: Probation officer

PSI: Pre-sentence investigation

ROR: Release on own recognizance

SA: Sexual assault

SAFE: Sexual assault forensic examiner

SO: Sheriff’s office or sex offender

SVJI: Sexual Violence Justice Institute

UA: Urinalysis