While You’re Abroad

Student Guide to Sexual Assault & Harassment Abroad

The Wake Forest University Sex and Gender Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Title IX Sexual Harassment and Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct Grievance Procedures prohibits sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, sexual exploitation, and statutory rape.

What is Consent?

Wake Forest defines consent as “informed, freely and actively given, mutually understandable words or actions, which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity.” Consent is mandatory in every instance of sexual activity.


“Consent” means permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. For example, a person consents to sexual activity if/when they give permission for the activity to occur or agree to engage in the activity. Consent is unambiguous, informed, active (not passive), voluntary (freely given), mutually understandable words and/or actions that indicate a willingness to participate in the sexual activity.

Whether someone has given consent is based on the totality of the circumstances and is determined by reference to a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances. Once consent to a sexual act has been given, consent can be withdrawn at any time by communicating words and/or actions to the other person before or during that sexual act. Consent is automatically withdrawn if someone becomes unconscious or falls asleep during a sexual act.

Consent cannot be inferred from silence, passivity, or a lack of resistance. Non-verbal communication alone may or may not be sufficient to constitute consent. Furthermore, consent cannot be inferred from a current or previous dating or sexual relationship (or the existence of such a relationship with anyone else), from someone’s attire, spending money, or consent previously given. In other words, consenting to one sexual act does not imply consent to another sexual act.

Consent cannot be coerced. Examples of coercion that prevent consent include physical force, violence, duress, intimidation, deception, or the threat, expressed or implied, of bodily injury.

The use of alcohol or other drugs does not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain consent before sexual activity and does not excuse conduct that violates this Policy.

Consent may never be given by:

  1. Minors*, even if the other participant did not know the minor’s age;
  2. Mentally disabled persons, when the Respondent knows or should know (based on a reasonable person standard) that the individual allegedly giving consent is not capable of consenting due to the disability; or
  3. Persons who are Incapacitated.

*A minor is a person who is legally below the age of consent as set forth in the applicable law. Determining whether someone is below the age of consent will be judged by the law of the place where the sexual act occurred. In North Carolina, the age of consent is 16 years old.

Adjusting to Cultural Norms

Each host culture varies tremendously in their attitudes toward men and women, response to crime, and resources available to victims of sexual misconduct. Prior to departing for your study abroad experience, it is important to familiarize yourself with the general attitudes of your host culture toward men and women, Americans, communication styles and cues, dress, and acceptable behaviors. Unknowingly, students studying abroad may communicate or dress in ways that may be misinterpreted by members of the host culture and increase their vulnerability.

Drink Responsibly

Although the victim is never responsible for an attacker’s sexual misconduct, there are preventative measures one can take to reduce one’s risk of being targeted. Students studying abroad will likely have increased access to alcohol because of lower legal age limits for purchasing alcoholic beverages. “Binge drinking” behavior common across U.S. college campuses is not as prevalent in cultures abroad. Students abroad may be unaware of higher alcohol content in drinks and therefore may become intoxicated more quickly. It is important that students are both careful of what they drink and are sure to not leave their beverage unattended to prevent the addition of any unknown substances. Knowing your limits and sticking to them is one of the most effective things you can do to decrease your risk of sexual misconduct. 

Maintain Open Communication

Sexual partners have the right and responsibility to know and vocalize their sexual limits. It is important that each partner communicates clearly and clarifies their partner’s wishes if confusion or ambiguity arise at any time. Speak up about what you want and don’t want, and encourage your partner to do the same. Although this can be difficult, NOT talking can contribute to confusion and misinterpretation of cultural norms and nonverbal behaviors (flirting, touching, kissing, etc.). 

Trust Your Instincts

Across all host countries, students often experience an illusion of safety while abroad. A general sense of adventure or a desire to fit into a new culture may cause students to relax their personal boundaries. If you find yourself in a situation in which you don’t feel comfortable, you have the right to say (or shout), “Stop – I don’t want this!” or to leave the situation and get help. Many victims of sexual misconduct later express having felt uncomfortable or afraid before the incident(s) happened, but they dismissed these feelings because it would have been embarrassing or difficult to act on them. Always trust your instincts.   

Preventative Safety Measures

Measures to prevent vulnerability to sexual misconduct include but are not limited to:

Resources for Help

In the event that you or a friend is a victim of sexual misconduct, your host country may have the best resources available for crisis response and immediate support.  Always get to a safe place and seek immediate medical assistance first. Then, seek out resources for emotional support as well as information on safety and reporting options. If you have it, save any evidence like notes, voice messages, emails, and gifts.

If your friend is a victim of sexual misconduct, it can be difficult to know what emotional help they need.  Some strategies for supporting a friend are:

Options for Reporting

Victims are strongly encouraged to first contact local law enforcement in their host country to both report the crime and to receive medical attention. Whether on campus, in our home communities, or abroad, Wake Forest community members are also encouraged to report incidents of sexual misconduct to the University. Should you contact another faculty or staff resource on campus, please note that they are required to report any knowledge of alleged sexual misconduct to the University as mandated by Title IX. Further resources for both safety concerns and reporting sexual misconduct abroad are:

WFU Safe OfficeProvides confidential support and consultation for WFU students24/7 line: (336) 758-5285
WFU Title IX OfficePrivate reporting options for students to report sexual misconduct to WFUMonday – Friday, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm EST: (336) 758-7258
WFU Center for Global Programs & Studies, David TaylorFirst point of contact for students abroad with a WFU program to coordinate health & safety responseMonday – Friday, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm EST: (336) 758-5938
WFU Campus PoliceAvailable 24/7 to help students abroad contact campus resources in emergency situations24/7 line: (336) 758-5911
WFU Dean of Students, Adam GoldsteinReporting option for students interested in pursuing a judicial hearingMonday – Friday, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm EST: (336) 758-5226


Lost in Translation: Helping Study Abroad Students Understand Sexual Violence. New Jersey: Rutgers Study Abroad, 2008. Print.

Sexual Misconduct: Keys to Prevention and Resources for Help. North Carolina: Wake Forest University, 2011. Print.