Important Definitions

Sexual Assault is a term that encompasses rape, forcible fondling, incest and statutory rape as defined below. In Pennsylvania, sexual assault is also a separate statute defined as sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse without the complainant’s consent.

Relationship Violence refers to domestic and dating violence as defined below.

Stalking means engaging in acts toward another person with the intent to place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or cause emotional distress as defined below.

Consent is an informed, affirmative decision made freely and actively by all parties to engage in mutually acceptable sexual activity. Consent is given by clear words or actions, and may not be inferred from silence, passivity, or lack of resistance alone. Existence of a current or previous dating, marital and/or sexual relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent to additional sexual activity. Consent to one type of sexual activity does not imply consent to other types of sexual activity.

Someone who is unconscious, asleep, or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated, whether due to alcohol, drugs or some other condition, cannot give consent. Consent cannot be obtained by force, intimidation, threat, coercion, isolation or confinement. Agreement obtained under such conditions does not constitute consent. A person’s use of alcohol and/or other drugs does not necessarily eliminate his or her responsibility to obtain consent.

Federal Definitions

Dating Violence: The term “dating violence” means violence committed by a person:  

  1. Who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim; and 
  2. Where the existence of such a relationship shall be determined based on a consideration of the following factors:  
  • the length of the relationship 
  • the type of relationship
  • the frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship  

Domestic Violence: The term “domestic violence” includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.

Stalking: Stalking means engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress. 

Pennsylvania Definitions   

Rape:18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3121

(a) Offense defined.--A person commits a felony of the first degree when the person engages in sexual intercourse with a complainant:  

  • By forcible compulsion. 
  • By threat of forcible compulsion that would prevent resistance by a person of reasonable resolution. 
  • Who is unconscious or where the person knows that the complainant is unaware that the sexual intercourse is occurring. 
  • Where the person has substantially impaired the complainant’s power to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering or employing, without the knowledge of the complainant, drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance. 
  • Who suffers from a mental disability which renders the complainant incapable of consent.  

(b) Additional penalties.--In addition to the penalty provided for by subsection (a), a person may be sentenced to an additional term not to exceed ten years’ confinement and an additional amount not to exceed $100,000 where the person engages in sexual intercourse with a complainant and has substantially impaired the complainant’s power to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering or employing, without the knowledge of the complainant, any substance for the purpose of preventing resistance through the inducement of euphoria, memory loss and any other effect of this substance.

(c) Rape of a child.--A person commits the offense of rape of a child, a felony of the first degree, when the person engages in sexual intercourse with a complainant who is less than 13 years of age.

(d) Rape of a child with serious bodily injury.--A person commits the offense of rape of a child resulting in serious bodily injury, a felony of the first degree, when the person violates this section and the complainant is under 13 years of age and suffers serious bodily injury in the course of the offense.

(e) Sentences.--Notwithstanding the provisions of section 1103 (relating to sentence of imprisonment for felony), a person convicted of an offense under:

Subsection (c) shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment which shall be fixed by the court at not more than 40 years.

Subsection (d) shall be sentenced up to a maximum term of life imprisonment.

Sexual Assault: 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3124.1
Except as provided in section 3121 (relating to rape) or 3123 (relating to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse), a person commits a felony of the second degree when that person engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse with a complainant without the complainant’s consent.

Domestic Violence: 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102
General rule.--The following words and phrases when used in this chapter shall have the meanings given to them in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:  

  • “Abuse.” The occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood:  
  1. Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon. 
  2. Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury. 
  3. The infliction of false imprisonment pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 2903 (relating to false imprisonment). 
  4. Physically or sexually abusing minor children, including such terms as defined in Chapter 63 (relating to child protective services). 
  5. Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury. The definition of this paragraph applies only to proceedings commenced under this title and is inapplicable to any criminal prosecutions commenced under Title 18 (relating to crimes and offenses).  
  • “Adult.” An individual who is 18 years of age or older. 
  • “Certified copy.” A paper copy of the original order of the issuing court endorsed by the appropriate clerk of that court or an electronic copy of the original order of the issuing court endorsed with a digital signature of the judge or appropriate clerk of that court. A raised seal on the copy of the order of the issuing court shall not be required. 
  • “Comparable court.” A foreign court that:  
  1. has subject matter jurisdiction and is authorized to issue ex parte, emergency, temporary or final protection orders in that jurisdiction; and 
  2. possessed jurisdiction over the parties when the protection order was issued in that jurisdiction.  
  • “Confidential communications.” All information, whether written or spoken, transmitted between a victim and a domestic violence counselor or advocate in the course of the relationship. The term includes information received or given by the domestic violence counselor or advocate in the course of the relationship, as well as advice, reports, statistical data, memoranda or working papers, records or the like, given or made in the course of the relationship. The term also includes communications made by or to a linguistic interpreter assisting the victim, counselor or advocate in the course of the relationship. 
  • “Domestic violence counselor/advocate.” An individual who is engaged in a domestic violence program, the primary purpose of which is the rendering of counseling or assistance to victims of domestic violence, who has undergone 40 hours of training. 
  • “Domestic violence program.” A nonprofit organization or program whose primary purpose is to provide services to domestic violence victims which include, but are not limited to, crisis hotline; safe homes or shelters; community education; counseling systems intervention and interface; transportation, information and referral; and victim assistance. 
  • “Family or household members.” Spouses or persons who have been spouses, persons living as spouses or who lived as spouses, parents and children, other persons related by consanguinity or affinity, current or former sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood. 
  • “Firearm.” Any weapon which is designed to or may readily be converted to expel any projectile by the action of an explosive or the frame or receiver of any such weapon as defined by 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105(i) (relating to persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms). 
  • “Foreign protection order.” A protection order as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2266 (relating to definitions) issued by a comparable court of another state, the District of Columbia, Indian tribe or territory, possession or commonwealth of the United States. 
  • “Hearing officer.” A magisterial district judge, judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court, arraignment court magistrate appointed under 42 Pa.C.S. § 1123 (relating to jurisdiction and venue), master appointed under 42 Pa.C.S. § 1126 (relating to masters) and master for emergency relief. 
  • “Master for emergency relief.” A member of the bar of the Commonwealth appointed under section 6110(e) (relating to emergency relief by minor judiciary). 
  • “Minor.” An individual who is not an adult. 
  • “Other weapon.” Anything readily capable of lethal use and possessed under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses which it may have. The term does not include a firearm. 
  • “Safekeeping permit.” A permit issued by a sheriff allowing a person to take possession of any firearm, other weapon or ammunition that a judge ordered a defendant to relinquish in a protection from abuse proceeding. 
  • “Secure visitation facility.” A court-approved visitation program offered in a facility with trained professional staff operated in a manner that safeguards children and parents from abuse and abduction. 
  • “Sheriff.”  
  1. Except as provided in paragraph (2), the sheriff of the county. 
  2. In a city of the first class, the chief or head of the police department.  
  • “Victim.” A person who is physically or sexually abused by a family or household member. For purposes of section 6116 (relating to confidentiality), a victim is a person against whom abuse is committed who consults a domestic violence counselor or advocate for the purpose of securing advice, counseling or assistance. The term shall also include persons who have a significant relationship with the victim and who seek advice, counseling or assistance from a domestic violence counselor or advocate regarding abuse of the victim. 
  • “Weapon.” Anything readily capable of lethal use and possessed under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses which it may have. The term includes a firearm which is not loaded or lacks a magazine, clip or other components to render it immediately operable and components which can readily be assembled into a weapon as defined by 18 Pa.C.S. § 907(relating to possessing instruments of crime).  

Other terms.Terms not otherwise defined in this chapter shall have the meaning given to them in 18 Pa.C.S. (relating to crimes and offenses).

Stalking: 18 Pa.C.S. §2709.1  

  • Offense defined.--A person commits the crime of stalking when the person either:  
  1. engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts toward another person, including following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person; or 
  2. engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly communicates to another person under circumstances which demonstrate or communicate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person.  

Consent in reference to sexual activity:

(a) General rule.--The consent of the victim to conduct charged to constitute an offense or to the result thereof is a defense if such consent negatives an element of the offense or precludes the infliction of the harm or evil sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense.


(b) Consent to bodily injury.--When conduct is charged to constitute an offense because it causes or threatens bodily injury, consent to such conduct or to the infliction of such injury is a defense if:  

  • the conduct and the injury are reasonably foreseeable hazards of joint participation in a lawful athletic contest or competitive sport; or 
  • the consent establishes a justification for the conduct under Chapter 5 of this title (relating to general principles of justification).  

(c) Ineffective consent.--Unless otherwise provided by this title or by the law defining the offense, assent does not constitute consent if:

  • it is given by a person who is legally incapacitated to authorize the conduct charged to constitute the offense; 
  • it is given by a person who by reason of youth, mental disease or defect or intoxication is manifestly unable or known by the actor to be unable to make a reasonable judgment as to the nature or harmfulness of the conduct charged to constitute the offense; 
  • it is given by a person whose improvident consent is sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense; or 
  • it is induced by force, duress or deception of a kind sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense.  

Key Definitions Under the Clery Act  

  1. Rape: The carnal knowledge of a person, forcibly and/or against the person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity (or because of his or her youth). For Clery reporting purposes, the crime of rape also includes sexual assault (intercourse without consent), sexual assault with an object, and forcible sodomy. 
  2. Forcible Fondling:  The touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her youth or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental incapacity. 
  3. Incest: Non-forcible sexual intercourse between persons who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by law. 
  4. Statutory Rape: Non-forcible sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent. 
  5. Domestic Violence: Felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person living with or has loved with the victim as a spouse, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family laws of the jurisdiction. 
  6. Dating Violence: Violence by a person who has been in a romantic or intimate relationship with the victim. 
  7. Stalking: To engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts toward another person, including following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person, or repeatedly communicates to another person under circumstances which demonstrate or communicate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person.