Sexual assault occurs when someone engages in nonconsensual touching or contact of a sexual nature to another person. This generally involves force, threat of force, or violence. While sexual battery requires penetration, the crime of sexual assault does not require this act.
Many states have separate criminal laws that cover sexual assault. While the definition above generally applies, the specific requirements for committing this crime can vary between the states. The penalties for sexual assault can include fines and prison time.
One big difference between the states is whether sexual assault can be punished as aggravated assault. Some state laws classify sexual assault as aggravated assault if the force or violence used causes bodily harm or injuries to the person who was sexually assaulted. Aggravated assault can carry harsher penalties than sexual assault, such as a longer prison sentence.
Sexual touching or contact is defined as the knowing, purposeful touching of an intimate or private part of another in order to arouse sexual desire. The touching may be accomplished either directly to the person’s body or through their clothing.
One example of an act that constitutes sexual touching includes inappropriately grabbing someone’s genitals, even when covered by clothes. Other examples could be kissing someone without their consent or threatening unwanted sexual conduct.
Keep in mind that there are some some situations where touching or contact involving another person’s intimate or private parts would not fulfill this element of sexual assault. This includes:
- Medical Personnel exception: If a medical person is performing a clinical examination of a patient then any touching of a person’s private parts would not be considered contact of a sexual nature.
- However, this does not apply if a person is falsely representing themselves as a medical professional or when an actual medical professional touches someone inappropriately outside the scope of the medical treatment. One example where this exception would not apply is if a medical professional fondled a patient while they were under anesthesia.
- Parental exception: If a parent is performing necessary domestic functions, like changing a diaper or giving a bath, then any touching of a child’s private parts would not be considered contact of a sexual nature. If, however, the touching is not being performed for a necessary domestic function, then the touching may be considered sexual assault and child abuse.
As noted above, for the crime of sexual assault the contact is generally done by force, threat of force, or violence. However, the force used can be as simple as making the contact and does not always need to include violence. Extreme force does not need to be used to satisfy this element of sexual assault, and threats are also sufficient in some jurisdictions.
However, force can be subjective and as such, the amount of force is relative to the person being touched. For example, the amount of force necessary to an unwitting child is extremely different than that of an adult with full capacity. Touching of a child not done by a parent for domestic care reasons will likely always be found forceful, no matter how slight it is.
Lastly, if the person being touched is unable to communicate consent because they are physically helpless, the force element is still fulfilled. Examples of this are someone who is unconscious or has blacked out due to alcohol or drug use. These situations can also be grounds for rape charges.
In addition to the medical and parental exceptions discussed above, there are some other possible defenses to sexual assault charges. One defense is consent to the sexual contact. If the touching was not unwanted there will be no sexual assault.
Consent can be shown through a person’s words or actions; for example, telling someone “kiss me” could establish consent, as long as there was no coercion involved. However, keep in mind that just because someone is married, it does not mean that there will always be consent. People can still be sexually assaulted by their spouses.
Another defense could be insanity or diminished mental capacity. This could remove the person committing the assault from liability for their actions because they did not know what they were doing. However, this is much harder to prove and could still lead to the person being committed to some type of treatment facility.
Sexual assault lawyers are criminal defense lawyers who help defendants in court who have been accused of sexual assault. If you are accused of sexual assault, you should consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area immediately to help protect your rights.
Victims of sexual assault can also contact a lawyer about possibly filing a civil suit against the person who sexually assaulted them. Civil liability can still exist even if criminal charges do not stick.