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Sexual violence is a blanket term we use which can cover a wide range, including harassment, stalking, domestic or dating violence, sexual assault and rape.

Responsibility for the event lies with the person who chooses to commit the act, never with the survivor.

If you have had a sexual experience you are unsure about or have experienced any form of sexual violence, we invite you to Te Whare Tāwharau for a chat and a safe space on campus.

Our commitment is to provide a safe and warm environment where you can discuss what has happened, how it's impacting you and your studies, and what kind of support you want. If you're hesitant, we understand and if it helps, you are welcome to bring a friend along with you. We also offer support for friends, family, partners and whānau of survivors, because we know that sexual violence impacts communities as well as individuals.

See also: Sexual Misconduct Policy

This page is designed to provide you with information on a range of topics related to sexual violence, including:

Definitions and examples


Consent is a legal term which by the Crimes Act 1961 is defined as follows:
128A Allowing sexual activity does not amount to consent in some circumstances

  1. A person does not consent to sexual activity just because he or she does not protest or offer physical resistance to the activity.
  2. A person does not consent to sexual activity if he or she allows the activity because of
    • force applied to him or her or some other person; or
    • the threat (express or implied) of the application of force to him or her or some other person; or
    • the fear of the application of force to him or her or some other person.
  3. A person does not consent to sexual activity if the activity occurs while he or she is asleep or unconscious.
  4. A person does not consent to sexual activity if the activity occurs while he or she is so affected by alcohol or some other drug that he or she cannot consent or refuse to consent to the activity.
  5. A person does not consent to sexual activity if the activity occurs while he or she is affected by an intellectual, mental, or physical condition or impairment of such a nature and degree that he or she cannot consent or refuse to consent to the activity.
  6. One person does not consent to sexual activity with another person if he or she allows the sexual activity because he or she is mistaken about who the other person is.
  7. A person does not consent to an act of sexual activity if he or she allows the act because he or she is mistaken about its nature and quality.
  8. This section does not limit the circumstances in which a person does not consent to sexual activity.
  9. For the purposes of this section,—
    • allows includes acquiesces in, submits to, participates in, and undertakes
    • b. sexual activity, in relation to a person, means—
      • sexual connection with the person; or
      • the doing on the person of an indecent act that, without the person's consent, would be an indecent assault of the person.

Section 128A: replaced, on 20 May 2005, by section 7 of the Crimes Amendment Act 2005 (2005 No 41).

We recognise that the legal definitions regarding consent and other aspects of sexual violence can be confusing and/or difficult to apply to different situations. If you have questions or would like support around defining your experiences please don't hesitate to call or drop in to the centre.

Sex should be voluntary, affirmative, conscious and mutual. Consent cannot be implied even if consent has been given for previous sexual activity. Silence does not constitute consent and consent may be withdrawn at any time. It involves words or actions which clearly communicate an agreement to engage in a particular sexual activity and is freely given; e.g. saying yes, nodding yes, asking permission, reciprocal touch.

Sexual assault and rape

Sexual assault is unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact, including touching, kissing, fondling, penetration, and rape. Examples of sexual assault include grabbing someone's breasts or bottom, penetrating someone's mouth, vagina, or anus with fingers, objects, or a penis, and oral/genital contact. It may involve the use of alcohol or other drugs to render a target incapacitated and unable to resist.

Threats, force or intimidation could involve physical restraint, threatening harm to you or your family, blackmail, or threatening job loss or academic repercussions for refusing sex.

Dating violence or domestic violence

Dating violence involves being physically, emotionally or sexually harmed by someone with whom you are dating. It includes injury or the threat of injury, in person or via the internet or text.

Domestic violence involves these types of harm, but in the context of a relationship, partnership or family situation in which people live together. It can include physical violence, controlling who you can see, monitoring your devices or surveillance, saying harmful, degrading or derogatory things. This term can also be used to cover violence that occurs in a flatting situation.

Sexual harassment

Is a request for sexual intercourse, sexual contact or other form of sexual activity which contains and implied or overt promise of preferential treatment or a threat of detrimental treatment; or
Using language, visual material or physical behaviour of a sexual nature towards a person that is:

(a) unwelcome or offensive to that person, and
(b) repetitive, demeaning, threating or intimidating to that person

University of Otago Ethical Behaviour Policy


Unwanted contact (physically or electronically) that is repetitive towards a person that causes them fear or concern for their safety. It could involve monitoring, observing, surveying, lying in wait, threatening, or intrusive communication including messages or gifts.

Distribution of intimate recordings

Making and sharing of intimate visual recordings and retaliation by streaming of images; recordings of sexual activity; or nude (full or partial) images without the knowledge and consent of all parties.


Retaliation involves harm or the threat of harm towards someone for filing a complaint or seeking support. It can be done by an institution, organisation, or individual. It can be done in person or online; e.g. revenge porn, threats, attacking or defaming one's character.

While these terms and definitions are a helpful tool to explain an experience of sexual violence, we understand that they aren't applicable to all situations. If you are unsure about an experience that you have had or how to define an experience we are here to listen and have a chat. You can do this over the phone, during drop-in hours or by appointment.

Information about alcohol and substance use in relationship to sexual violence

It is not appropriate for one person to use alcohol and/or drugs to intoxicate or make another person unconscious to enable sexual activity to occur. Any person initiating sexual behaviour of any kind has a responsibility to ensure that consent is given voluntarily and freely. If one person is too intoxicated or incapacitated to give consent or refuse to have sex, any sexual activity is unlawful.

Experiencing any form of sexual violence can have a harmful effect on a person's emotional and psychological well-being. The use of alcohol and drugs may be used as a coping strategy, however there can be negative consequences including substance abuse, or engaging in risky behaviours. Counsellors and specialists can aid in developing healthier coping strategies and working through the emotions that accompany sexual violence experiences.

Common ways that survivors react

There are many different ways people can respond to sexual violence. Some survivors react immediately, others may take days, weeks, months, or even years to react. How the survivor reacts or appears is not associated with the severity of the event or its impact.

Survivors may:

  • Seem fine and undisturbed
  • Be in shock
  • Cry uncontrollably
  • Engage in excessive bathing
  • Say it isn't a big deal
  • Be angry or enraged
  • Engage in self-blaming

Survivors may also have a range of reactions during the assault, including fight, flight or freeze. Freezing is an extremely common reaction by survivors to the shock of sexual violence. Freezing is a very common reaction to sexual assault. There is no right or wrong way to respond to sexual assault, and it is never your fault.

Support persons

All survivors are welcome to bring along a support person. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to foster your access to our centre and support services.

How to support a survivor and respond to a disclosure

Survivors often tell friends before telling family, reporting to the police, or even seeking help from a counsellor or rape crisis centre. Many survivors feel shame and doubt about what has happened, and fear a negative response; as a result, one in three will keep the assault a secret.

If you are hearing a disclosure of sexual assault, it's normal to have your own feelings or to not know what to do. You may need to talk about it and get support — after all, someone you care about has been hurt, and hearing about sexual violence can be confronting.

What to do:

  1. Listen
    Often what people need most is someone to just listen to what happened. It may feel like you are not doing much, but just listening is the most important thing you can do.
  2. Believe
    Those who experience sexual violence can doubt their own interpretation of the experience. It is really important to those disclosing that we believe what they tell us. It is also helpful to tell them that it is not their fault.
  3. Respect their decisions
    You may offer them the option to accompany them to Te Whare Tāwharau or another support or reporting agency. Once you make the offer, respect their decision about what they want to do.

Remember that the most important thing is for the survivor to make their own decisions as a way to reclaim their power after experiencing sexual violence. While it is understandable that you may want them to take their healing journey in a certain direction; e.g. reporting to police, outing the perpetrator or going to counselling, it is important to remember whose healing journey it is. If you are struggling with your friend, partner or family member's choices or attitude about their healing journey it is important that you voice them separately so as not to silence their decisions.

What not to do:

  1. Speak for the survivor
    It is important for the survivor to define the experience for themselves as a way to process what they have been through and claim their own story. It may also lead to them questioning themselves if their experience is mislabelled by the people around them.
  2. Ask probing questions
    It is up to the survivor to share their story in their own time, not for the supporters to investigate or know the 'whole story.' Some survivors may never tell their friends and whanau all the details and that is their decision to make.
  3. Imposing your views
    Sometimes you may feel anger and frustration at the perpetrator. If this does occur you may want to seek your own support so you do not place that burden on the survivor. They need to focus on their own healing journey and having to comfort or talk down their supporters will not make them feel heard.

Responding in a caring and compassionate way can increase the chances that your friend, partner, or colleague will continue to seek help and support. Te Whare Tāwharau is available to supporters as well. If you need support please come in or call, we are happy to listen to anything you feel you need to discuss.

Special topics for takatāpui and the LGTBQ community

Te Whare Tāwharau, recognise takatāpui, fa'afafine, lesbian, gay, trans, gender fluid, bisexual and queer identities and relationships. Our staff are thoughtful and trained to provide informed support for people of any gender or sexuality.

Sexual violence is a gender based phenomenon. Takatāpui, fa'afafini and people of minority genders and sexualities are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence. Within rainbow relationships, there can be unique forms of violence, and different stakes e.g. maybe an abusive partner is the only person who has affirmed your gender identity or the assault has been minimised as “normal queer sex.”

Power and Control Wheel for Rainbow Relationships (PDF)

Special topics for Māori students

Tēnā koutou and welcome. Te Whare Tāwharau understands and is committed to providing a safe and culturally sensitive space that will ensure that you receive the utmost care and attention to help navigate the turbulent journey that you may be experiencing due to sexual assault. Te Whare Tāwharau understands that when Māori suffer the impacts of sexual violence negatively it not only affects the mana of individuals but also that of their whānau. Therefore Te Whare Tāwharau strives to ensure that you have tino rangatiratanga – autonomy in your decision making and in deciding the best course of action for your circumstances.

If you wish to bring a friend or whānau as support when you visit us that is fine and if you wish, we can contact Pearl Matahiki and her caring team at Te Huka Mātauraka – The Māori Centre who have dedicated counsellors and can further offer support for you.

Te Whare Tāwharau is committed to the University of Otago's Māori Strategic Framework and to its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Special topics for Pacifica students

Talofa Lava and warm Pacific greetings. Te Whare Tāwharau understands how Pacific ethnic group's diverse and multicultural vibrancy enriches Aotearoa populations and we wish to offer you a service that not only acknowledges this diversity but offers support in an inclusive and culturally sensitive way for you.

We understand how hard it is to access services that are often taboo in different cultures, but if you are reading this please be assured we will do our best to support your needs in accessing help. We will ensure your safety and confidentiality, and support you in being able to access the support needed to help you through this difficult time.

Te Whare Tāwharau can also call upon the guidance and support of Tofilau Nina and her team at the Pacific Islands Centre to offer support if this is requested by you. We understand that this will be a traumatic time in your life and that it is easier to overcome when support networks are put into place.

Special topics for students with disability, impairment and medical conditions

We recognise that intimate forms of violence disproportionately impact people with disability, impairment, and medical conditions. We also recognise that these impairments could provide barriers to seeking support, and so we strive to meet your specific needs and remove what barriers we can in order to offer you informed and caring support.

We are available to come to you by appointment, if that better suits your needs and abilities.

Special topics for students with mental illness

We acknowledge that persons with mental illness are disproportionally impacted by sexual violence. Mental illness can complicate the coping process, and pre-existing mental illness can also be compounded by experiencing sexual violence.

At Te Whare Tāwharau we provide informed support for survivors who are also managing mental illness. This can involve collaboration with disability services, student health, mental health services, and community referrals.

You are not obligated to tell us about any pre-existing mental illness. However, if you feel it would be helpful and relevant to do so, we offer a safe and accepting space and will support you in accessing resources specific to your wants and needs.

Support flowchart

This flowchart is designed to clarify what happens when you come through the door at Te Whare Tāwharau (PDF)

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