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Definition of Sexual Assault Update

Graphic on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention

This design promoted the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention office at Hill Air Force Base, UT, incorporating airmen (military and civilian) to help personalize both the event and awareness of sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry)


A 2016 reform to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that took effect in 2019 has changed the definitions of sexual assault for the military.

Sexual assault in the military has long been defined as any unwanted touching on any area of the body.

Mrs. Kelly Wilds, the Air Combat Command Sexual Assault Prevention and Response coordinator, stated that the definition has recently been updated to be more specific about what sexual assault is.

“We (now) have what was known as abusive sexual contact. So abusive sexual contact is non penetration. Sexual assault is penetration. And abusive sexual contact is sexual contact without permission without penetration,” said Mrs. Wilds. “It used to be any contact of a sexual nature without permission without consent. Now (sexual assault) is sexual contact without consent in the erogenous zone.”

The changes to the definition clarifies the distinction between abusive sexual contact and assault, and brings the offense of abusive sexual contact under the UCMJ in line with abusive sexual contact under section 2244, Title 18, US Code.

“So it (sexual assault) used to be any area of the body of a sexual nature without consent now it's strictly limited to the erogenous zones,” said Ms. Wilds.

The change has only an update to the definition of sexual assault, it does not change reporting and is not meant to hinder someone who feels they have experienced any unwanted sexual touch or attention from reporting.

The focus of the Air Force continues to ensuring excellence in victim advocacy and sexual assault prevention as a means to promote readiness.

For more information on reporting go to www.af.mil/SAPR.