Defining Domestic and Sexual Violence

Workplaces Respond uses language based on the Centers for Disease Control, Violence Against Women Act, and International Labour Organization’s Convention 190 and seeks to use terms that are inclusive and reflect survivors’ experiences.

Domestic Violence and Dating Violence (also referred to as Intimate Partner Violence):

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used by one partner to maintain power and control over another current or former intimate partner. This includes people with any current or former romantic involvement, for example dating, previously dating, on again/off again, married, divorced, living together or apart and can occur between people of any gender identity or sexual orientation. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behavior that intimidates, manipulates, humiliates, isolates, frightens, terrorizes, coerces, threatens, hurts, injures, or wounds someone. It can also include “digital abuse”, the use of technology, such as smartphones, the internet, or social media, to intimidate, harass, threaten, or isolate someone.

Similar to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence is violence and abuse committed by a person to exert power and control over a current or former dating partner. Dating violence often involves a pattern of escalating violence and abuse over a period of time. Dating violence covers a variety of actions, and can include physical abuse, physiological and emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

Gender-Based Violence and Harassment:

Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH) is a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm directed at persons because of their sex or gender identity, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.1 GBVH is an umbrella term for dating and domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and stalking. These types of violence can co-occur or can singularly occur.

Person Who Causes Harm (also referred to as perpetrators, abusive partners, abusers, or batterers):

An individual who commits or threatens to commit an act of gender-based violence and/or harassment.

Note: Individuals who commit acts or threats of gender-based violence and harassment are often referred to as perpetrators, particularly in legal proceedings. Historically these individuals have been referred to as abusive partners or batterers. Recognizing that individuals who commit or threaten to commit an act of gender-based violence and/or harassment may also have a complex history of experiencing violence and/or harassment, the advocacy community has shifted this language to a “person who causes harm” to define that person in relationship to the act and to recognize that they may have also experienced harm in other contexts.

Sexual Assault (also referred to as Sexual Violence):

Sexual Assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault is sexual activity such as forced sexual intercourse, sodomy, molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. It includes sexual acts against people who are unable to consent either due to age or lack of capacity.

Survivor (also referred to as Victim):

An individual who is currently subject to, or has in the past been subjected to, gender-based violence and/or harassment.

Note: Individuals who are currently subjected to, or in the past have been subjected to GBVH are often referred to as victims in a criminal justice context but as survivors by the broader advocacy community. Survivor is often the preferred terminology because it signifies strength and resilience while victim can bring a sense of powerlessness and shame. Individuals who experience GBVH may or may not identify themselves as either survivor or victim. Use the language these individuals use to describe their experience and ensure that they have control over their story and any actions taken in response to their experiences of GBVH.


Stalking is a pattern of repeated, fixated, obsessive, and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking is dangerous and can often cause severe and long-lasting emotional and psychological harm to victims. Stalking often escalates over time and can lead to domestic violence, sexual assault, and even homicide. Stalking can include frightening communications, direct or indirect threats, and harassing a victim through the internet (referred to as technology-facilitated stalking or cyberstalking).

Workplace Sexual Harassment:

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment refers to both unwelcome sexual advances, or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex. The offensive conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire, but may be based upon an employee’s actual or perceived sex or gender-identity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and/or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser, and actions that subject co-workers to a hostile work environment.2

World of Work:

The World of Work consists of any location in which employees, paid and unpaid interns, contractors, volunteers, board members, consultants, and temporary workers perform their job duties. This includes:

  • in the workplace, including public and private spaces where they are a place of work;
  • in places where the worker is paid, takes a rest break or a meal, or uses sanitary, washing and changing facilities;
  • during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities;
  • through work-related communications, including those enabled by information and communication technologies in employer-provided accommodation; and,
  • when commuting to and from work.3

Outside of the World of Work, refers to any place in which a person covered by this policy is not engaging in work-related activities, such as at home or in the community off hours.

  1. International Labour Organization Violence and Harassment Convention. (2019).  ↩︎
  2. State of California Civil Rights Department. (2022). Sexual Harassment Fact Sheet. Retrieved from  ↩︎
  3. International Labour Organization Violence and Harassment Convention. (2019). ↩︎