There are a lot of legal terms and definitions surrounding the issue of sexual harassment, which can be confusing if you’re not a legal expert. Here are some of the terms and definitions you’ll see most frequently throughout this website and the University’s sexual harassment policy.


A person who observes behavior or conduct that is in violation of the rules or policies of an institution. Bystander intervention is when a bystander’s safe and positive actions prevent harm or intervene when there is a risk posed to another person. Bystander intervention includes recognizing situations of potential harm, identifying safe and effective intervention options, and taking action to intervene.


The use of authority or force to impose an unwanted advance. The act of compelling by force of authority.


An individual who has made a complaint to report a violation of policy. The term is also sometimes used to refer to an individual who has raised concerns regarding sexual harassment without filing a complaint – for example, an individual who has spoken with a confidential resource. This person may also be referred to as the target or, in some cases, the victim.

Confidential Resource

A confidential resource means that information will not be shared without your explicit permission. You are welcome to contact one of the University’s confidential resources to learn about your reporting options, available support services, and resources.


An affirmative decision to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity and is given by clear words or actions. Consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity or lack of resistance alone. Furthermore, consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity and the existence of a current or previous dating, marital or sexual relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent to additional sexual activity. Assent shall not constitute consent if it is given by a person who, because of youth, disability, intoxication or other condition, is unable to lawfully give his or her consent.

Domestic Violence

Abuse committed against an adult who is a spouse or former spouse, cohabitant or someone with whom the abuser has a child, has an existing dating or engagement relationship or has had a former dating or engagement relationship.

Hostile Work or Academic Environment

One of two different grounds that federal law generally has recognized for claiming sexual harassment.

In this case, a hostile work or academic environment doesn’t refer to general hostile behavior. It exists when another person engages in unwelcome and inappropriate sexually based behavior or speech severe or pervasive enough to interfere with an individual’s job or academic performance and render the workplace or academic atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive. Usually a pattern of this sort of behavior is required, but one incident can be enough, if sufficiently severe or outrageous.


The effect or consequence of an action. The impact of behavior of a sexual nature is more important than the person’s intentions in determining sexual harassment.


The purpose or intention of an action, from the actor’s point of view. A person’s good intent is not relevant in determining whether behavior may be sexual harassment.

Non-forcible Sex Acts

Unlawful sex acts where consent is not relevant, such as sexual contact with an individual under the statutory age of consent as defined by Pennsylvania law.


A person who is of equal standing with another in a group — for example, two students or co-workers where neither has supervisory responsibility or a power differential over the other.

Quid Pro Quo

One of two different grounds that federal law generally has recognized for claiming sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo literally translates as “something for something.” This type of harassment occurs when a person in authority, usually a supervisor or instructor, demands sexual favors in exchange for a job, promotion, grade, or other favorable treatment. In quid pro quo cases, the offense is directly linked to the individual’s terms of employment or academic success, or forms the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting the individual.


Sexual assault involving an act of penetration and includes acquaintance rape (assailant and victim know each other).


An individual identified by the complainant in his or her complaint as having engaged in sexual harassment or otherwise violated University policy.  The term is also sometimes used to refer to an individual identified as having engaged in sexual harassment by someone who has not filed a complaint – e.g., an individual who has spoken with a confidential resource.

Relationship Violence

Also commonly known as dating violence, is defined as an act or a pattern of abuse committed by a person involved in a social, sexual or romantic relationship, past or present, with the victim. Relationship violence can encompass a broad range of behaviors that may include physical violence, sexual violence, emotional violence and economic violence.


Engaging in a course of conduct directed at specific person(s) that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, the safety of others, or to suffer substantial emotional distress.

In determining whether the alleged conduct violates this policy, consideration will be given to the totality of the circumstances, including the nature of the conduct and the context in which the alleged incident occurred.


Taking or threatening to take an unfavorable action against an individual, or withholding or threatening to withhold a favorable action, to negatively impact a person who has made a complaint or shared concerns or sexual harassment or discrimination or to discourage a reasonable person from making a complaint or sharing concerns of sexual harassment or discrimination.

Sexual Assault

Including but not limited to rape, is defined as having committed any of the following acts:

  • Any physical sexual contact that involves the use or threat of force or violence or any other form of coercion or intimidation.
  • Any physical sexual contact with a person who is unable to consent due to incapacity or mental or physical impairment. “Incapacity” or “impairment” include but are not limited to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs orbeing too young to consent.

Sexual Harassment

Any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with the academic or work effectiveness of the target. It is often imposed upon a person in an unequal power relationship through the abuse of authority and may involve an implied reward or threat of deprivation.

Sexual Violence

As defined in Penn’s Policy, sexual violence identifies a range of behaviors in which an act of a sexual nature is perpetrated against an individual without consent or when an individual is unable to give consent. There are various types of sexual violence, including sexual assault and rape.

Sexual violence may be committed by physical force, violence, or threats; coercion or intimidation; ignoring the objections of another person; causing another person’s intoxication or impairment with alcohol or drugs; or taking advantage of another person’s intoxication, incapacitation, unconsciousness, state of intimidation, helplessness, or other inability to consent.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding.

Title IX Coordinator

The University official (Sam Starks) charged with ensuring the University’s overall compliance with Title IX and related University Policy. He is also available to provide information and advice regarding Title IX for students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors.