In a legal context, sexual assault occurs when someone engages in nonconsensual touching or contact of a sexual nature with another person. Generally speaking, this involves force, threat of force, and/or violence. Although the crime of sexual battery requires penetration, the crime of sexual assault does not require this act.
Many states have separate criminal laws which address cases of sexual assault. While the definition provided above generally applies, the specific requirements for committing this crime can vary considerably between the different states. The penalties for sexual assault can vary greatly as well, but generally include criminal fines and incarceration in a federal prison facility.
One defining difference between the states would be whether sexual assault can be punished as aggravated assault. Some state laws classify sexual assault as aggravated assault if the force or violence that was used causes bodily harm and/or injuries to the person who was sexually assaulted. Aggravated assault can result in harsher penalties than compared to sexual assault, such as a longer prison sentence.
For legal purposes, sexual touching or contact is defined as the knowing and purposeful touching of an intimate or private part of another person in order to arouse sexual desire. This touching may be accomplished either directly to the person’s body, or through that limited barrier of their clothing.
An example of an act that generally constitutes sexual touching includes inappropriately grabbing someone else’s genitals, even when they are covered by clothes. Another example of this would be kissing someone without their consent, or threatening unwanted sexual conduct.
It is important to note that there are some situations in which touching or contact involving another person’s intimate or private parts would not fulfill this element of sexual assault. This includes, but may not be limited to:
- The Medical Personnel Exception: If a medical professional is performing a clinical examination of a patient that necessitates touching or contact involving the patient’s genitals, any touching of their intimate parts would constitute contact of a sexual nature. However, it is imperative to note that this does not apply if a person is falsely representing themselves as a medical professional, or when an actual medical professional touched someone inappropriately outside of the scope of the medical treatment. An example of this would be if a medical professional fondled a patient while they were under anesthesia; or
- The Parental Exception: If a child’s parent is performing necessary domestic functions, such as changing a diaper or bathing their child, any touching of private parts would not be considered as contact of a sexual nature. However, if the touching is not being performed for a necessary domestic function, the touching may be considered sexual assault as well as child abuse.
How Is The Force Element Of Sexual Assault Fulfilled?
To reiterate, the crime of sexual assault generally requires that the contact is done by force, threat of force, and/or an act of violence. However, the force used can be as simple as making contact, and does not always need to include violence. Additionally, extreme force does not need to be used in order to satisfy this element of sexual assault. As such, threats are also considered to be sufficient in some jurisdictions.
It is imperative to note that force can be subjective and as such, the amount of force is relative to the person being touched. An example of this would be how the amount of force experienced by an unwitting child is considerably different from that of an adult with full capacity. Touching a child that is not done by a parent, and for domestic care reasons, will generally always be qualified as forceful.
Finally, if the person who is being touched is unable to communicate consent because they are physically helpless or incapacitated, the force element is still fulfilled regardless of the actual amount of force that was used. An example of this would be if someone is unconscious or has blacked out because of alcohol or drug use. Another example of this would be sexual contact with a mentally incapacitated person who cannot determine whether they consent. These situations can also serve as grounds for rape charges.
Can I Sue In Civil Court For Sexual Assault? Can I Sue Multiple People?
You can sue in civil court for sexual assault. However, a plaintiff must choose a cause of action in order to sue the defendant. Because personal injury law does not have a sexual assault cause of action, a plaintiff must instead choose one or more of the following legal theories in order to bring a civil claim against the defendant:
- Battery; and/or
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress.
You can also sue multiple people; however, who you can bring a civil lawsuit against depends largely on the facts and circumstances of each specific case. As such, there are some situations in which a plaintiff can sue additional parties for the assault. An example of this would be how if the sexual assault occurred at school, the plaintiff can sue the school administration or a teacher for allowing the assault to happen in addition to suing the person who actually committed the assault.
How Is A Civil Claim For Sexual Assault Proven?
Proving a civil claim for sexual assault largely depends on whether there is a criminal case. If there is a criminal case, the plaintiff may be able to use the legal rule known as “collateral estoppel” in order to prove their civil case. Under collateral estoppel, the plaintiff can introduce evidence from a criminal case that has already been used in order to determine the defendant’s guilt.
Generally speaking, a civil case is easier to win if the defendant has already been convicted of sexual assault, because it has previously been proven in court that the defendant has committed the assault.
If there has not been a criminal case, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant more than likely committed the assault. This is accomplished by satisfying the elements that are required to prove the tort that the plaintiff is suing under, such as assault or battery.
What Are Some Defenses That May Be Used In Response To Filing A Civil Claim For Sexual Assault?
In addition to the medical and parental exceptions which were discussed above, there are some other possible defenses to sexual assault charges. One defense would be consent to the sexual contact, if the touching was not unwanted, there will be no sexual assault.
Consent can be proven through a person’s words or actions. An example of this would be how directly telling someone “kiss me” could establish consent, as long as there was no coercion involved. Additionally, just because someone is married, it does not mean that there will always be consent. As such, people can still be sexually assaulted by their spouses.
Another defense could be insanity or diminished mental capacity, which could remove the defendant from liability for their actions because they did not know what they were doing. However, this is much more difficult to prove, and could still result in the defendant being committed to a treatment facility.
Do I Need An Attorney For Help With Filing A Civil Claim For Sexual Assault?
Because a sexual assault civil claim is hard to prove due to the evidence needed and the number of different parties that may be involved, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your personal injury attorney will inform you of your legal rights and options under your state’s sexual assault laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.