Student Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy

Definitions

Due to the sensitive and sometimes violent nature of incidents involving sexual misconduct, the following definitions are provided for informational use by students and for guidance in the investigation and processing of alleged violations. It is possible that a particular action may constitute sexual misconduct even if not specifically mentioned in these examples.

Sexual misconduct is a broad term used to encompass a range of behaviors including sexual harassment, nonconsensual sexual contact (sexual assault), nonconsensual sexual penetration (rape), and sexual exploitation. Some behaviors covered by these definitions might be referred to as rape, sexual assault, or sexual battery in criminal statutes. Terms that are also used culturally include date rape, acquaintance rape, or intimate partner violence. Sexual misconduct can occur between individuals who know each other, have an established relationship, have previously engaged in consensual sexual activity, and between individuals who do not know each other.

Sexual misconduct can be committed by persons of any gender identity, and it can occur between people of the same or different sex.

MIT students are expected to engage in sexual behavior of any kind only with the fully informed and effective consent of all parties involved. Effective consent must be obtained for each instance and each escalation of sexual activity. Obtaining effective consent is the responsibility of the party initiating sexual activity. Doing otherwise may constitute sexual misconduct and is a violation of MIT policy.

Effective Consent is:

  • informed;
  • freely and actively given;
  • mutually understandable words or actions;
  • which indicate a willingness to participate in
  • mutually agreed upon sexual activity.

Further:

  • Initiators of sexual activity are responsible for obtaining effective consent.
  • Silence or passivity is not effective consent.
  • The use of intimidation, coercion, threats, force, or violence negates any consent obtained.
  • Consent is not effective if obtained from an individual who is incapable of giving consent due to one or more of the following or other reasons:
    • a mental, intellectual, or physical disability; or
    • is under the legal age to give consent; or
    • is asleep, unconscious, or physically helpless; or
    • is incapacitated by alcohol or other drugs.
  • Consent to one type of sexual activity does not imply consent to any other or all types of sexual activity.
  • A person can withdraw consent at any time.
  • Consent to sexual activity at one time does not imply consent to the same or other sexual activity at any other time.
  • Refusal, lack of consent, or non-consent may be expressed in many ways, verbally or physically. Physical resistance is not necessary to communicate a lack of consent. It is not necessary to resist physically or express verbally to indicate a lack of consent. It is the responsibility of the initiator of the sexual activity to obtain effective consent.

Individuals who initiate sexual activity assume responsibility for their behavior and must understand that the use of alcohol or other drugs does not reduce accountability for their actions. The question is whether or not the person who initiated the sexual activity knew or whether a sober and reasonable person in the same position should have known whether the other person gave effective consent

Incapacitation is the physical and/or mental inability to make informed, rational judgments and decisions. States of incapacitation include sleep and blackouts. Where alcohol or other substances are involved, incapacitation is determined by how the substance impacts a person’s decision-making capacity, awareness of consequences, and ability to make informed judgments. 

In evaluating whether a person was incapacitated for purposes of evaluating effective consent, the Institute considers two questions: (1) Did the person initiating sexual activity know that their partner was incapacitated? and if not, (2) Should a sober, reasonable person in the same situation have known that their partner was incapacitated? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” effective consent was absent.

For purposes of this policy, incapacitation is a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication. A person is not incapacitated merely because they have been drinking or using drugs.

The standard for incapacitation does not turn on technical or medical definitions, but instead focuses on whether a person has the physical and/or mental ability to make informed, rational judgments and decisions. A person who initiates sexual activity must look for the common and obvious warning signs that show that a person may be incapacitated or approaching incapacitation. Although every individual may manifest signs of incapacitation differently, typical signs include slurred or incomprehensible speech, unsteady gait, combativeness, emotional volatility, vomiting, or incontinence. A person who is incapacitated may not be able to understand some or all of the following questions: “Do you know where you are?”, “Do you know how you got here?”, “Do you know what is happening?”, “Do you know whom you are with?”.

Because the impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person, one should be cautious before engaging in sexual contact or intercourse when either party has been drinking alcohol or using other drugs. The introduction of alcohol or other drugs may create ambiguity for either party as to whether effective consent has been sought or given. If one has doubt about either party’s level of intoxication, the safe thing to do is to forgo all sexual activity.

Coercion is to force one to act based on fear of harm to self or others. Means of coercion may include, but are not limited to, pressure, threats, emotional intimidation, or the use of physical force.

Force may include words, conduct, or appearance. Force includes causing another’s intoxication or impairment through the use of drugs or alcohol. Coercion, intimidation, and non-physical threats can all be forms of force.

Sexual Harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when:

  • submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a condition of an individual’s employment or academic standing; or
  • submission to, or rejection of, such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions (such as advancement, performance evaluation, or work schedule) or academic decisions (such as grading or letters of recommendation); or
  • such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s working conditions, academic experience, or living conditions, or of creating a hostile working, academic, or living environment.

Even one instance of sexual harassment, if severe enough, may create a hostile environment. A non-exhaustive set of examples of conduct that might constitute sexual harassment are included below.  One or more of these actions will be considered sexual harassment only when that conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with another individual’s working conditions, academic experience, or living conditions, or of creating a hostile working, academic, or living environment.

Examples of verbal sexual harassment may include unwelcome conduct such as unwelcome sexual flirtation, advances or propositions or requests for sexual activity or dates; asking about someone else's sexual activities, fantasies, preferences, or history; discussing one’s own sexual activities, fantasies, preferences, or history; verbal abuse of a sexual nature; suggestive comments; sexually explicit jokes; turning discussions at work or in the academic environment to sexual topics; and making offensive sounds such as smacking or licking lips, kissing sounds, or "wolf whistles."

Examples of nonverbal sexual harassment include unwelcome conduct such as displaying sexual objects, pictures or other images; invading a person's personal body space, such as standing closer than appropriate or necessary or hovering; displaying or wearing objects or items of clothing which express sexually offensive comments; making sexual gestures with hands or body movements; looking at a person in a sexually suggestive or intimidating manner; or delivering unwanted letters, gifts, or other items of a sexual nature. In addition, nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual exploitation, and nonconsensual sexual penetration may constitute nonverbal instances of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment does not include material or discussion that is appropriately related to course subject matter or curriculum, and this policy shall not abridge academic freedom or the Institute’s educational mission.

Nonconsensual sexual contact (sexual assault) is defined as any physical contact with another person of a sexual nature without that person’s effective consent. The touching of a person’s intimate parts (such as genitalia, groin, breast, buttocks, mouth, or clothing covering same); touching a person with one’s own intimate parts; or forcing a person to touch another’s intimate parts would be violations of this policy if they occur without effective consent.

Nonconsensual sexual penetration (rape) is defined as the sexual penetration of any bodily opening with any object or body part without effective consent. This could be committed by force, threat, intimidation, coercion, or through exploitation of another’s mental or physical condition (such as lack of consciousness, incapacitation due to drugs or alcohol, age, or disability) of which the respondent was actually aware or which a reasonable person in the respondent’s position should have been aware.

Sexual exploitation means taking sexual advantage of another person and includes, without limitation: indecent exposure; causing or attempting to cause the incapacitation of another person in order to gain a sexual advantage over him or her; causing the prostitution of another person; recording, photographing, or transmitting images of private sexual activity and/or the intimate parts of another person without effective consent; allowing third parties to observe private sexual acts without effective consent; engaging in voyeurism without effective consent; and knowingly or recklessly exposing another person to a significant risk of sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.