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Consent-based Rape Definitions

Definitions of rape need to be based on voluntary, genuine, and willing consent and recognize a broad range of coercive circumstances where consent cannot be voluntary, genuine, or willing and where the victim is incapable of giving consent. Concerningly, however, countries around the world, including in the Americas, have definitions of rape which are based on force or the threat of force, as opposed to lack of consent.

In Equality Now’s recent study, 23 of the 43 jurisdictions surveyed in the Americas require the use of additional violence, threat, or using the victim’s physical helplessness, incapacity, or inability to resist as elements of rape.

This sheet explores why consent-based definitions are necessary, why forced-based definitions fail survivors, outlines the key elements of a consent-based rape definition, offers a standard to which governments can align their laws, and presents the international and regional human rights standards that provide the framework on which this information is based.

Explore our reports for more regional and country-specific information on sexual violence laws in the Americas, Eurasia, and South Asia.