Find Sexual Assault Lawyer

Find Sexual Assault Lawyer

Sexual Assault Law

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50% of women and 33% of men have experienced sexual violence involving sexual contact at some point in their lives.

At the most basic level, sexual assault refers to sexual contact coupled with the lack of consent. With those principles in mind, it is evident that the term may apply to a very wide range of conduct from penetrative rape, to the unwanted touching of another’s intimate parts through their clothes.


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Terminology is Key

At the very outset, it must be noted that when it comes to sexual assault and other sex crimes, (as well as all crimes, for that matter), each element of the crime must be defined by statute and established by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. Given that there are countless nuances and distinctions between how each state defines concepts such as “consent,” “sexual assault,” “sexual contact,” etc, the importance of terminology cannot be overstated.
Take for example any offense which includes the touching of another’s intimate parts as an essential element of the crime. Whereas many states include in their definitions of “intimate parts” the genitalia, anus, groin, buttocks, and breasts, Virginia also under that definition includes the chest of a child under the age of 15, whereas Texas does not include breasts but only the female nipple. Thus it soon becomes readily apparent that a specific act may be a crime in one state but not in another.

Sexual Assault and Consent

While some states have varying definitions of consent, and other states instead describe what consent is not, the common themes are that:

- Consent must be knowing, voluntary, and freely given
- Consent can be words or actions, as long as it creates clear permission
- Consent must be revocable at any time
- Consent may not be inferred from the failure to say no or offer physical resistance
- Consent to engage in one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to engage in another form of sexual activity

Because minors are deemed unable to provide consent, every state has passed statutory rape laws (although not every state uses that term) criminalizing sex with minors to some degree. The age of consent in each state differs, but is either 16, 17, or 18.
However, these prohibitions are not absolute in that age differentials are taken into account (the so-called “Romeo and Juliette” laws). For instance, the age of consent in Maine is 16, but it is not a crime for someone to have sexual relations with someone who is 14 or 15 as long as they are less than 5 years older than them. In Delaware, where the age of consent is 18, it is legal for anyone who is younger than 30 to have sexual relations with someone who is 16 or 17.
Most states also have spousal exception laws where sexual intercourse is not a crime even if one of the partners is significantly younger than that state’s age of consent.

Federal vs State Prosecution of Sex Crimes

While the majority of sex crimes are prosecuted at the state level, the federal government has concurrent jurisdiction with the individual states over a large variety of sex offenses. Some of the most common crimes the federal government prosecutes are those involving commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). These prosecutions generally involve the following acts perpetrated against children (CSEC), but also apply to adults where force, fraud, or coercion is involved:

- Prostitution
- Sex trafficking
- Sex tourism
- The production, possession, or distribution of pornography
- Live sex shows or internet streams

Some sex crimes may only be prosecuted by the federal government due to its exterritorial jurisdiction, which allows it to prosecute certain crimes that took place in another country, such as when an American citizen travels to another country and has sex with a child.
Additionally, because states often have statutes of limitations preventing them from prosecuting of sex crimes after a certain amount of time has passed (or in most states, if the victim was a child, a given time period beginning after the child reached the age of majority), and the corresponding version of federal crime will not recognize any such limitations, perpetrators of those crimes can only be brought to justice by the federal government.

Classification of Sex Crimes

Crimes are classified as either misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to a year in jail, or felonies, which are punishable by more than a year in prison. Misdemeanors and felonies are further assigned degrees that decrease in number as the severity of the surrounding circumstances of the crime increases. For example, a crime that is defined as burglary in the fourth degree may be classified as a crime of burglary in the second degree if the actor was carrying a deadly weapon when committing the crime. In this example, carrying the weapon will be considered an aggravating factor that escalated the crime from the fourth to the second degree.
When it comes to sexual assault and other sex crimes, aggravating factors may include:

- The actor used a deadly weapon to threaten or coerce the victim
- The actor used drugs or any other intoxicating substance to incapacitate the victim
- The victim was physically helpless, disabled or mentally incapacitated
- The victim was severely harmed during the commission of the crime
- The actor kidnapped or forcibly confined the victim
- The age of the victim (applies to both underage and elderly victims)

Furthermore, certain crimes that do not necessarily include a sexual component may be aggravated where a sexual component is involved. For instance, in New York, the crime of stalking in the fourth degree will be escalated to stalking in the third degree if the stalker’s actions cause the victim to reasonably believe that they, or a family member, will be sexually assaulted.

The Many Faces of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can take many forms. Most commonly sexual assault can take the form of workplace harassment, penetrative assault, or simply non-consensual sex.

Workplace Harassment

Workplace sexual harassment is a form of sexual assault that occurs while the victim is working. Workplace harassment is divided into either quid pro quo sexual harassment or hostile work environment sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo is the most straightforward form of workplace sexual harassment. The perpetrator offers some incentive or threatens some punishment if the victim does not perform a sexual act. The incentive can be implied or explicit but the victim must believe that their performance of a sexual activity is required in order to achieve it.

Hostile workplace harassment takes two forms: pervasive and severe harassment. Pervasive harassment is defined as a series of repeated actions that make the victim feel unable to safely perform their assigned duties. Severe harassment is defined as a single event that compromises the victim’s ability to feel safe in their workplace. Often a severe workplace harassment incident will involve a physical assault.

Penetrative Assault

Penetrative assault is another name for the legal charge of rape. Penetrative assault is defined as the penetration of an individual with any object. Penetrative assault is one of the most intense forms of sexual assault and often has serious criminal penalties.

Non-consensual Sex

Non-consensual sex is any sexual act that is performed without an individual’s clear, enthusiastic, uncoerced consent. Any form of non-consensual sex is an assault and this includes sex acts on a person who is not able to give consent.

If an individual is intoxicated, incapacitated, or asleep, they cannot give consent and that is an assault. On the other hand, if the perpetrator pesters, threatens, guilts, or otherwise coerces a victim to agree to a sexual act, that is still non-consensual because the “yes” was not given voluntarily or enthusiastically. When there is an imbalance of power, such as between an adult and a minor or between a subordinate and manager, there cannot be consent because of the unequal balance of power.

Helping You Find Justice

In the time after a sexual assault, it can be difficult to make sense of what just happened. During this traumatic time, you may not be well-equipped to pursue justice for your injury. By contacting a sexual assault attorney, you will be able to pursue justice and get compensation for the injuries you have suffered.

In order to achieve this best outcome, however, you will need an attorney who has the expertise and resources to take your case all the way. That’s why you should contact Attorney at Law. By partnering with AAL, you will be able to avoid slogging through the quagmire of unscrupulous lawyers looking to exploit your case.

At AAL we only partner with the best firms in your area, helping you find the best attorney for your case. Don’t wait, contact AAL today for a free no-obligation consultation and begin your journey to justice.

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Sexual Assault Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is considered sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any sexual activity performed on someone in a nonconsensual way. Consent is defined as an enthusiastic, affirmative agreement to engage in sexual acts. If someone agrees to one sex act but is pressured into another, that is assault. If an individual cannot consent due to intoxication or unconsciousness, that is assault. If someone refuses to perform a sex act but is coerced anyway, that is assault.

2. How many people are sexually assaulted each year?

According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime. That same source reports that 734,630 people reported being sexually assaulted in 2018. It is difficult to accurately tally the exact number of people who experienced an assault because not every victim of a non-consensual sexual act feels comfortable sharing their experience or even acknowledges that they were assaulted.

3. Is sexual assault a felony?

There are many different types of sexual assault under the law. Depending on the law or laws violated, sexual assault can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The crime of rape or criminal sexual penetration has multiple degrees including the lesser charge of aggravated sexual assault. In most cases, this is a felony.

An even lesser charge of sexual assault is criminal sexual contact or sexual battery. These crimes are closer to misdemeanor status and do not feature penetration as part of the acts. There are also variants of sexual assault law such as sexual conduct by a person in authority or sexual conduct with a minor. These acts may be added to a sexual battery or rape charge as appropriate and may enhance misdemeanor level charges to felony status. 

4. What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex-based workplace discrimination. In order to be classified as sexual harassment, the discriminatory behavior must either rise to the level of being pervasive or severe. 

Pervasive sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment through repeated inappropriate acts against an employee. This could include sexual jokes, inappropriate touching, or repeated advances. Severe sexual harassment does not need to be repeated. A severe incident, such as a sexual assault, creates the feeling that the workplace is unsafe and is therefore hostile.

5. How many times can I file for bankruptcy?

There is no hard limit on how many times you can file for bankruptcy. Instead, each chapter of bankruptcy has a window that limits when they can be filed for again. For example, if you successfully file for and are granted relief under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you will not be allowed to petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy again for eight years. A successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy will also prevent you from filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy for four years.

6. Do the terms sexual abuse and sexual harassment refer to the same conduct as sexual assault?

No. The term sexual abuse is often used in the context of acts committed against children. As with many other forms of sexual crimes, there need not be any contact with the victim, and child sex abuse can include sharing pornographic materials with a minor, sending them obscene text messages, or engaging with them in online interactions of a sexual nature.

Sexual harassment generally refers to a much wider range of behaviors than those defined as crimes under state and federal laws, and is the subject of civil lawsuits rather than criminal prosecution. Sexual harassment often occurs within the workplace, for example when co-workers or bosses make frequent inappropriate comments about a co-worker’s dress or appearance, tell overtly sexual jokes or discuss activities of a sexual nature in a co-worker’s presence, or subject them to quid-pro-quo harassment, which is when a person in a position of power solicits sexual favors from a subordinate by promising them raises or promotions.

7. Can sexual conduct between consenting ever be considered sexual assault or other sex crime?

Yes. One example is incest. Except for Rhode Island and New Jersey, every state in the US criminalizes incest between consenting adults (although how incest is defined, and the penalties imposed, will vary from state to state).

Another example is professional sexual exploitation which involves sexual activity between professionals such as doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, clergy members, and similar professionals who hold a position of trust vis-à-vis their clients, who are likely to be in a vulnerable state mentally or emotionally, and therefore extremely susceptible to being taken advantage of.

Of course, such misconduct will almost certainly result in the suspension of the professional’s license by the relevant licensing authority, in many states, depending on the professional position and nature of the act, such misconduct can also be a crime. For example, under the Colorado Penal Code, the commission of an act involving sexual intrusion or penetration between a psychotherapist and their client is considered aggravated sexual assault; with the code specifically stating that the client’s consent is not a legal defense to the crime.

8. Is physical contact a requirement for it to be considered sexual assault or other sex crime?

No. In fact, many sex crimes are committed without the victim being aware that they have taken place. Some examples include:

  • Indecent exposure of one’s genitals or other private parts in a public place
  • Voyeurism, which is watching or recording another without their knowledge, in a private area where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, for purposes of sexual gratification or arousal 
  • Taking or distributing pictures of another’s intimate parts, or of them engaged in intimate acts, without their consent
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