Key Terms and Definitions

Abuse – There are many kinds of abuse, and anybody can be a victim. Abuse is hallmarked by coercive and controlling behaviour. The UK government defines domestic abuse as: “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial [and] emotional.” Alternatively, the NSPCC defines child abuse as “any action by another person – adult or child – that causes significant harm to a child. It can be physical, sexual or emotional, but can just as often be about a lack of love, care and attention.” For more information about abuse – including how to identify it, report it and seek help – see Domestic Violence and Abuse and Child Abuse and Neglect

Advocacy – the Oxford English Dictionary defines advocacy as “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.” Advocacy groups aim to help people’s voices be heard, sometimes by speaking on their behalf. Unconsenting Media advocates for greater attention given to how we present sex and consent (as well as rape and sexual assault) in popular media such as television and movies.

Age of consent – this is the age at which a person is considered legally capable of consenting to sexual contact and intercourse, and it differs from country to country. In the UK, the age of consent is 16, and 'consenting' sexual intercourse between a legal adult and a teenager under the age of 16 is likely to qualify as Unlawful Sexual Intercourse/Sexual Activity. Sexual intercourse between an adult and a child under the age of 13 qualifies as Statutory Rape. Possessing a sexual image of a person under the age of 18 also qualifies as an offence, even if that person is over 16. If you don’t know what the age of consent is where you live, you can find out here:

Ambiguity – for a situation to be ambiguous is for it to be inexact, subjective and/or open to interpretation. At Unconsenting Media, we understand that many scenes in movies and television may be ambiguous: our database attempts to anticipate as many possible interpretations as possible by providing warnings when we think some people might feel uncomfortable and by making notes of ambiguous scenes. This does not necessarily mean that we promote one interpretation over another: rather, we are attempting to anticipate the broadest possible range of reactions to the best of our ability. We leave the decision about which interpretation to accept up to you.

Assault by Penetration – according to Section 2 of the Sexual Offences Act, 2003, Assault by Penetration has occurred if 'a person (A)... a) intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person (B) with a part of his body or anything else, b) the penetration is sexual, c) B does not consent to the penetration, and d) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.' This provision was made in order to account for assaults by and against people of any gender and its severity is legally on par with that of rape; both offences carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Assault by Penetration differs from rape in that it does not apply to penetration of the mouth.

Attempted rape – the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 says that attempted rape is identified by the clear intention of the aggressor to penetrate another person with their penis without the other person’s consent (see the legal definition of rape below). Due to the frequent ambiguity of a perpetrator’s intentions, in legal cases, it is often difficult to distinguish attempted rape from sexual assault.

BME/BAME – Black and Minority Ethnic or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. This is the terminology usually used in the UK to describe people of non-white descent. Some resources exist specifically for use by BME survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Coercion – the Oxford English Dictionary defines coercion as “the action or practice of persuading someone to do something by use of force or threats.” Coercion is usually used to force somebody to do something which they would not otherwise want to do. It can include the improper use (or threat of use) of any kind of power/authority, including economic, physical or psychological. For consent to be valid, it must be given in the absence of any kind of coercion, either explicit or implicit.

Consent – If somebody gives their consent, it means that they agree to do something freely and willingly. In sexual encounters, consent should always be given enthusiastically and in the absence of any coercion. The Crown Prosecution Service observes that the Sexual Offences Act of 1956 gives no statutory definition of consent, but that “lack of consent can be demonstrated by: the complainant’s assertion of force or threats; evidence that by reason of drink, drugs, sleep, age or mental disability the complainant was unaware of what was occurring and/or incapable of giving valid consent, or; evidence that the complainant was deceived as to the identity of the person with whom [they] had intercourse.” It also states that “a boy or girl under the age of 16 cannot consent in law.” For a great explanation of the role and importance of consent in sex, see this article: Rape and consent: What you need to know before you have sex.

Discourse – this refers to discussion or debate regarding a topic. Unconsenting Media aims to promote honest, informed and nuanced discourse regarding sex, consent and rape, both in the media and everyday life.

Harassment – harassment is behaviour which the perpetrator knows will cause alarm or distress to their target. Rape Crisis England and Wales defines sexual harassment as “any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that you find offensive or which makes you feel distressed, intimidated or humiliated.” This can include degrading comments and gestures, leering/staring, sexual jokes or propositions, unsolicited sexual emails or texts, unwelcome physical advances, or the display of sexual images in either your space or a shared space, such as the workplace. See the Rape Crisis England and Wales website for more information on how to deal with this kind of behaviour if you encounter it: Sexual Harassment

Incest – this is defined as “sexual relations between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal or forbidden by custom,” and also refers to the crime which this constitutes. Our database includes a warning for incest specifically for the benefit of those who have survived incestuous abuse, in childhood or otherwise.

LGBT+ – is an initialism of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. Many people expand this initialism to include other groups within the LGBT community, such as those identifying as agender/asexual/aromantic, queer or questioning.The Story of LGBTQIA: What Do All These Letters Really Mean

Media – this can refer broadly to any means of influential mass communication, including television, movies, radio, newspapers, magazines, novels and the internet. For the moment, Unconsenting Media focuses specifically on portrayals of consent in film and television but, in the future, we’d love to explore the possibility of branching out and providing content warnings for other kinds of media, such as novels.

Rape – according to Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, “the elements of rape are: (A) intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis; (B) does not consent to the penetration, and (A) does not reasonably believed that (B) consents… Rape is still a crime of basic intent, and drunkenness is no defence.” Also see the definition of Assault by Penetration, legislation regarding with accounts for assault by and of persons of any gender on par with the severity of rape. It is worth noting that, while only a person with a penis can technically be convicted of rape, people without penises can be convicted of rape in the context of a joint enterprise (e.g. if they are present during the offence, procure the person targeted for rape, encourage the rapist/s or help to restrain the victim).

Sex negativity – broadly, this refers to excessively conservative, intolerant or repressive attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Not wanting to have sex yourself does not imply that you are necessarily “sex negative;” rather, this refers to views which position sex and those who engage with it as morally corrupt. For instance, Psychology Today notes that "some religiously-motivated groups have adopted the concept of sex addiction as a means to stigmatise homosexuality [and] alternative sexualities."

Sexual assault – Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 states that “the elements of the offence of sexual assault are: a person (A) intentionally touches another person (B), the touching is sexual, (B) does not consent to the touching, and (A) does not reasonably believe that (B) consents.” Whether touching is sexual is determined by both obvious situational factors and intent. This sexual touching can be done with any part of the body, or with anything else, including through clothing. Sexual assault can be committed by and against people of any gender.

Sexual violence – this is a broad term which can refer to a wide range of aggressive, harmful and non-consensual sexual activities, such as sexual harassment, rape/attempted rape and child abuse.

Stalking – there is no strict legal definition of stalking in the UK, but a number of actions and offenses are clearly associated with it. These include, but are not limited to, following a person; watching or spying on a person without their knowledge or consent; or forcing contact on a person by any means, including persistent phone calls, letters, notes or text messages. The Crown Prosecution Service stipulates that the effect of stalking is to curtail the target’s freedom, leaving them with the feeling that they have the be wary at all times. In isolation, conduct may appear innocent, but carried out repeatedly and over time it causes significant alarm or distress to the target. For more information on what constitutes stalking, and for information on who to contact if you believe you are being targeted, see here: What is Stalking?

Statutory rape – in the UK, Statutory Rape refers to instances where a legal adult has sex with a child under the age of 13 (Section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act, 2003). In such cases, it is irrelevant whether the child gave verbal or implied consent at the time, because they are not deemed capable of fully understanding their choice or its consequences. Usually, such cases are taken more seriously when they regard the statutory rape of a child by a significantly older person, as opposed to sexual contact between two people of the same or very similar ages.

STI/STD – sexually transmitted infection or sexually transmitted disease. These are also known as venereal diseases. These refer to diseases which are transmitted from person to person via vaginal, oral or anal sex.

Trauma – this is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” Sexual assault and rape are usually highly traumatic events in the lives of survivors. Traumatic events such as these can have ongoing psychological and physical effects with the potential to remain present for years, and often require work with medical professionals to heal from.