Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Assault

Q. What’s the definition of sexual misconduct at Williams?

A. Any sexual activity that takes place without consent.

CONSENT of each party is required for every kind of sexual activity – including touching, kissing, intercourse, and any thing else.

Filming, recording, or watching sexual activity is also a violation of the code of conduct if it happens without explicit consent of all parties.  These are forms of sexual exploitation.


Q.  What is consent?

A.  Consent means clear, active expression by each party that shows that they wish to engage in the sexual activity.

For you to get consent means that consent is:

  • Freely given
  • Clearly communicated
  • Verbally stated
  • For this act
  • Right now
  • With you

Consent CANNOT be given by someone who is significantly impaired by illness, drugs or alcohol, by someone who is unconscious or asleep, or by someone who is coerced, threatened or under duress.

Consent needs to be present for each aspect of sexual activity – someone saying they want to kiss is not consent for intercourse.  Consent may be withdrawn at anytime – if someone says they want to stop or aren’t sure, the activity must stop right away.   You may not wait to finish.

Consent is specific – both for a particular activity and at a particular time.  Walking back to someone’s room with them does not represent consent for any kind of sexual activity.  Previous consent to a particular act does not mean you have consent for that act on another day or time.  Specific consent is necessary– for example “would you touch me here”?  “Yes, I’d love to!”


Q.  What if both parties have been drinking?

A.  It is the responsibility of any parties who engage in sexual activity to ensure that effective consent exists for each sexual act and over the entire course of a sexual encounter.  Where one party is the clear initiator, the burden is on that individual to ensure that consent has been freely sought and given. The necessity for consent is not diminished by use of alcohol and/or other drugs. If the person who wants to engage in sexual activity is too intoxicated to judge another’s communications about consent, that person has an obligation to cease the activity. As is the case with all violations of the Code of Conduct, the use of alcohol or drugs does not minimize or excuse a person’s responsibility for committing a sexual assault.

If an individual is too intoxicated to interpret their partners’ verbal or physical cues, or if they are too intoxicated to ask, they should not try to initiate sexual activity.  In other words, “I was drunk” does not excuse the violation of another person’s boundaries.



Q.  I had sex that I later regretted.  Does that mean there was a violation of the college’s code of conduct?

A. Maybe, but not necessarily.  If you were not significantly impaired and you demonstrated by words or specific actions that you wished to engage in the sexual activity, then there was consent and the other person did not engage in sexual misconduct.   However, if you did not express consent or were not able to express consent because you were too impaired by alcohol or drugs, then misconduct occurred.  If you aren’t sure – talk to someone from of the resources below!  Activity that made you uncomfortable is worth getting support for, whether or not it was a violation of College rules or the law.


QI’d like to talk with someone in confidence about a sexual experience that may have been assault.  I don’t want anyone else to know.  Who can I talk to?

A.  There are several different people you could talk with.  You could call Sexual Assault Survivor Services (SASS) at 413-597-3000. A Williams staff member who is trained to address issues related to sexual assault, relationship abuse, and stalking will talk with you or meet with you at any time, 24/7.  You could also call RASAN, the 24/7 peer support and education network at 413-597-4100, to reach a student who can talk with you about your experiences.  You can call a dean (413-597-4171, or 413-597-4444 after hours) or a Chaplain (413-597-2483) or a member of the Davis Center Staff (413-597-3340) or Psychological Counseling services (413-597-2353) to talk about what happened.

All of these people will be happy to help you and will keep your call confidential if you wish it to be so, with only one exception. * If the person you talk to feels that you or the community are in immediate danger, they will have to report what took place to the Dean in order to allow CSS and the police to step in and protect you and others from injury.

If you’d rather talk with someone outside the Williams Community, you can report directly to the Williamstown Police, 911 or 413-458-5733,  or get support from the Elizabeth Freeman Center, 413-499-2425.


QWhat happens if I report a sexual assault to the Dean’s Office or Campus Safety?

A.  A dean will listen to you and will also explain options for keeping you safe and away from the person who assaulted you.  These options may include a no contact order, changes in housing, and academic accommodations.

The dean will also explain how to move forward with the College’s disciplinary process or with reporting the assault to the police, if you wish to do so.   However, the choice of whether or not to move forward with the disciplinary process or reporting to the police remains yours.


Q.  I was assaulted a while ago and didn’t tell anyone.  Is it too late to talk to someone about it?

A. No!  You can call any of the resources to talk about your experience and to get support at any time.  And, there is no time limit for proceeding with the disciplinary process at the College, so long as the person who committed the assault is still a Williams community member.


Q.  I heard that most years there are only a few formal reports of sexual assault.  If it’s that rare, why does everyone act like it is such a big deal?

A. Survey data–both at Williams and nationally–show that approximately 1 in 4 women is sexually assaulted while in college,  as are approximately 1 in 16 men.  Sexual assault affects large numbers of students.  Not all students who experience assault report it formally through the college or police.   This is true nationally as well.  There are many reasons this is the case, including the fact that it can be very difficult to talk with others about personal sexual experiences that may have been traumatic.  However, Williams does all it can to ease the difficulty of reporting a sexual assault, so that those who experience assault can get effective support to heal and also so that those perpetrating assault can be held accountable for their actions.   For more information about the reporting process, contact RASAN, SASS,  a dean, or go to

*Some College records can also be subpoenaed in court.  This applies to records kept by the deans, CSS, Davis Center, and RASAN.  Health Center records and Chaplain’s records are privileged, and can not be subpoenaed.  When assaults are reported to the College, we must report the fact that there was an assault (no names or details are revealed) to the police and for federally required statistics.