How Does Your State Define Consent?

One of the most common questions that RAINN receives is: What exactly is consent? From a legal standpoint, it’s a deceptively difficult question, since consent means something a little different in each state. But now, thanks to pro bono help from law firm Hogan Lovells, we can provide a detailed answer, customized for every state, in RAINN’s Defining Consent database.

Defining Consent will join seven other databases as part of RAINN’s Laws in Your State tool, one of the most popular destinations on Each week, tens of thousands of visitors, from Congressional staffers and reporters to state policy makers and students, search RAINN’s state databases, which contain information on how each state defines its sex crimes, statute of limitations laws, whether and when a rapist is required to get tested for HIV/AIDS, and other topics. Map of the United States and territories, with abbreviations written inside, to illustrate the fact that the legal definition of consent varies by state.


“We know that the legal definitions for terms like rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse vary from state to state. But did you know that states vary in how they define someone’s ability or inability to consent to sex, too? No matter how a state defines it, consent always plays an important role in determining whether an act is legally considered a crime,” said Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy.

The new consent laws database is part of an expanded pro bono commitment from Hogan Lovells, which in just the last three years has contributed more than $1 million in legal work to support RAINN. It includes each state’s definition of how, when, and if a person can consent to sexual acts. These definitions often hinge on factors including whether or not a person provided consent freely (in other words, without being forced or coerced to do so); and whether or not the person had the capacity to legally consent (for instance, someone who is a child or unconscious does not have the legal capacity to consent to sexual acts).

Find out how consent is defined in your state. Be part of the solution: Visit RAINN's Action Center and sign up to stay informed about RAINN’s work to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits, as well as other key policy issues.

The rape kit backlog is currently one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence.

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Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 310 are reported to the police.

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