To be physically helpless is to be unable to consent to sexual contact. In this article, we define the term “physically helpless” and explain how it relates to sexual assault law.
In law, to be physically helpless is to be unconscious or physically unable to communicate unwillingness to an act for any reason. A person who is physically helpless is considered to be incapable of giving consent.
For this reason, any individual who engages in a sexual act with a physically helpless person and knows (or reasonably should know) that they are physically helpless is committing sexual assault – often in the first degree.
Note that physical helplessness focuses on the ability to communicate rather than the ability to physically resist contact, such as pushing away or escaping from the perpetrator. This is because a victim does not have to physically resist in order for an act to be considered assault. A lack of consent is sufficient to characterize a sexual encounter as assault.
Examples of states in which a victim may be considered physically helpless include:
Each state has its own definition of exactly what sexual assault is, and exactly what it means to be physically helpless, but most operate on the basic principle above. Similarly, each state has its own penalties for sexual assault of a physically helpless person, but it is generally defined as a felony punishable by over one year in prison.
In order to convict a defendant on charges of sexual assault related to sexual activity with a victim who was physically helpless at the time of the act, the prosecution must be able to provide evidence that proves the victim was unconscious, asleep, or otherwise unable to communicate.
If you have been affected by sexual assault, it is recommended that you speak with an experienced attorney familiar with cases like yours. They will be able to give you a free review of your case and represent you in court in order to increase the chances of your winning.