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Legal Definitions and Information

If you have or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you may be unsure what to call it or if what happened was illegal. The following legal definitions of sexual violence and other related acts may help. For more detailed legal information about the criminal process, civil lawsuits, immigration, safety, and options at school or work, please download  Legal Information About Sexual Assault.

Remember: These are legal definitions and are intended only as guides. They may not necessarily define your personal experience. If what happened to you or someone you care about does not appear to fit into one of these categories, it doesn’t mean you or they were not harmed. BARCC’s trained hotline counselors are available at 800-841-8371 to answer your questions 24-7.

Legal definitions

Rape: Forced and nonconsensual sexual penetration of any body part by another body part and/or object. A person is forced into sexual intercourse through threats, physical restraint, and/or physical violence. Consent cannot legally be given if a person is under the age of 16, mentally disabled, or incapacitated (intoxicated, drugged, unconscious, or asleep).

Indecent assault and battery: Nonconsensual, sexually offensive touching that does not include penetration.

Stalking: Willful and malicious engagement in a pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person that seriously alarms or annoys that person and causes them to fear for their safety or wellbeing. A person can stalk another by following, calling, instant messaging, writing, or emailing them.

Criminal harassment: Willful and malicious engagement in a pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person that seriously alarms or annoys that person and causes considerable emotional distress.

Annoying telephone calls: Telephoning another person or causing a person to be telephoned repeatedly for the sole purpose of harassing, annoying, or molesting that person, regardless of whether conversation ensues or whether indecent or obscene language is used.

Read the full definitions of the above terms as stated in Massachusetts General Law.

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