Terms and Definitions

Learn more about how to help yourself and others using vital information within the terms, definitions and resources below, such as everything you need to know about consent and how to ensure you have it, how to help protect someone’s safety while still keeping yourself safe, tips to help identify forms of relationship violence and what you can do if you or a friend is experiencing it.

Click on each term below for definitions and resources.

A knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. The definition of consent does not vary based on a participant's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

What is Consent?

Columbia Policy and New York State Law require “affirmative consent” in sexual relationships. Affirmative consent means a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions clearly communicate willingness to engage in the sexual contact or activity. It is important not to make assumptions. If there is confusion or ambiguity, participants in sexual activity need to stop and talk about each person’s willingness to continue.The definition of consent does not vary based upon a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

There are many different definitions of consent in the context of sexual relationships. Some can make “consent” seem technical, legalistic, and overly complicated. Most basically, consent requires communication. In sexual relationships, it is about communicating your own interest, listening to your partner’s interest, and moving ahead with sexual activity only if you both agree. Importantly, silence or lack of resistance does not demonstrate consent. A person who is incapacitated by alcohol or drug use or for any other reason cannot consent. And — consenting to one type of sexual activity (e.g. a kiss or other sexual contact) does not imply consent to another activity.

How do I know if someone is incapacitated and cannot consent? Common warning signs that a person may be incapacitated or approaching incapacitation as a result of alcohol or drug use include, for example, slurred or incomprehensible speech, vomiting, or unsteady gait. Alcohol and drugs can lower inhibitions and create confusion over whether consent is freely and affirmatively given. Keep in mind: the impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person.

Students acting in good faith who disclose gender-based misconduct will not be subject to disciplinary action by the University for violations related to the possession and/or use of alcohol and/or drugs occurring at or near the time of the gender-based misconduct, whether use and/or possession is intentional or accidental. This does not apply to those who use alcohol or drugs as a weapon or to facilitate assault (see page 33 of this PDF: Gender-Based Misconduct Policy and Procedures for Students).

Being a prosocial bystander means being aware of what's happening around you and learning how to step in safely or seek help from others.

What is Bystander Intervention?

All of us are bystanders when we observe actions or situations that jeopardize someone’s safety or well-being. One way to create a safe and healthy community is to be a “prosocial-bystander” – taking action to help others. 
Being a prosocial bystander means being aware of what's happening around you and learning how to step in safely or to seek help from others.

How can I intervene?

Stepping in can be something as minor as you telling a friend that you find their language offensive, or it may involve leaving a party early with a friend who is intoxicated to make sure they arrive home safely.

Step UP! Bystander Intervention teaches four basic steps:

  1. Notice the event
  2. Interpret the situation as a problem
  3. Assume personal responsibility
  4. Intervene safely and effectively

Tips for intervening safely:  

  • Never put yourself in harm's way. Consider whether direct and/or indirect intervention is best. 
  • You can talk to someone, make a phone call (911 if necessary), and/or engage others.
  • Intervene early, if you can, before the problem becomes a crisis.
  • Remain calm while gathering information and providing support. 

Look for bystander intervention training in our workshops

Confidential resources do not share identifying information with anyone. Non-confidential resources disclose information only when necessary to get students additional services or to protect community safety.

For more information, download this PDF: Together We Can Create a Culture of Sexual Respect.

These forms of relationship violence both include the use or threat of physical violence, coercion, threats, isolation, stalking, or other forms of serious emotional, psychological, sexual, technological, or economic abuse.

What is Dating Violence?

Dating violence can be a single act or a pattern of troubling behavior in relationships. It can start with what seem like small acts, but lead to more serious violence, like physical assault and rape. It is a form of domestic violence that happens between people in close relationships.  

How do I recognize dating or relationship abuse and violence? 

 Violence doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. However, in most abusive relationships, the abusive partner does many different things to exert power and control over their partners. If you’re beginning to wonder whether your partner or a friend’s partner is abusive, look out for these behaviors:

  • Telling you that you can never do anything right; embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
  • Showing jealousy of your friends; controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do 
  • Acting in ways that scare you
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions, working, or attending class
  • Destroying your property or threatening things or people you care about
  • Pressuring you to have sex or engage in sexual behavior you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol

See a list of red flags from the National Domestic Violence Hotline here.

What are forms of dating violence?

 Dating violence can be physical, sexual, and/or emotional.  At the same time, cell phones and the Internet are often used as tools for abuse. These technologies enable quick and constant access which can be a means to impose control and harass others. 

Read more about forms of dating violence

If you’re experiencing or observing any of the above, you can get support.

Read the Policy Definition on page 12 of this PDF: Gender-Based Misconduct Policy and Procedures for Students

If you experience acts of aggression, intimidation, stalking, or hostility based on gender or gender stereotyping, this may be gender-based harassment. Threats or non-consensual disclosure of a person’s gender identity or that a person is transgender or non-binary (i.e. “outing”) is also gender-based harassment.

Acts of aggression, intimidation, stalking, or hostility based on gender or gender stereotyping constitute gender-based harassment; threats or non-consensual disclosure of a person’s gender identity or that a person is transgender or non-binary (i.e. “outing”). Gender-based harassment can occur if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic of their gender or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity. To constitute harassment, the conduct must unreasonably interfere with another person’s education or participation in educational programs or activities or create an intimidating, hostile, demeaning, or offensive academic or living environment.

A person who is incapacitated cannot make a rational, reasonable decision, lacks the ability to understand his or her decision, and may be unconscious, asleep, involuntarily restrained, or have a disability that impedes consent. Under New York State law, a person under the age of 17 lacks the capacity to give consent (see page 20 of this PDF: Gender-Based Misconduct Policy and Procedures for Students).

Any intentional sexual contact or intercourse without a person's affirmative consent.

Sexual Assault: Intercourse

Any form of vaginal, anal or oral penetration, however slight, by a penis, object, tongue, or finger without a person’s affirmative consent.

Sexual Assault: Contact

Any sexual contact, including sexual touching for the purpose of sexual gratification of either party, without a person’s affirmative consent. Sexual touching includes contact under or over clothing with the breasts, buttocks, genitals, groin, or inner thigh, or touching another with any of these body parts; making another person touch any of these body parts under or over clothing; or the emission of ejaculate on the clothing or body of another person without that person’s consent. 

If you experience unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual contact, and other unwelcome verbal, physical, or visual conduct of sexual nature, this may be sexual harassment.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual contact, and other verbal, physical, or visual conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when: 

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s academic, co-curricular, or student life activities;
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for academic or student life decisions affecting that individual;
  • Such conduct is intentional, serves no legitimate purpose, and involves contact with parts of another individual’s body that may cause that person to feel degraded or abused; 
  • The behavior is for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire; or
  • Such conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with another person’s academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, demeaning, or offensive campus or living environment.

A course of unwanted attention that is repeated or obsessive, directed toward an individual or a group and that is reasonably likely to cause alarm, fear or substantial emotional distress.

Stalking may take many forms, including lying in wait for, monitoring and/or pursuing contact. Stalking may occur in person or through communications such as telephone calls, text messages, unwanted gifts, letters, e-mails, surveillance or other types of observation.