Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a type of sex crime and form of assault that arises from the unwanted sexual touching of another. In some states, sexual assault is a lesser degree of forced sexual contact than rape, while other states use the term sexual assault as an umbrella term for all forms of unwanted sexual contact. The exact definition will depend on the statutes of the state in which you reside.

How Sexual Assault Occurs

Sexual assault can occur between any two individuals when one person is the subject of sexual contact to which he or she did not consent. This can include family members, partners who are dating, or spouses, and can be perpetrated by any gender, including sexual assault by one female against another or one male against another. Sexual assault requires that there was a lack of consent by one party, an element of the crime that can often be difficult to prove. If an individual is incapacitated, he or she cannot consent to sexual contact.

Thus, for instance, if a woman is drunk after a night of partying, or a man was under the influence of drugs, they can argue that they were unable to consent to the sexual contact that occurred. Likewise, if a person is deemed incapable of consenting, perhaps because of a mental disability, sexual assault may be easier to establish. In situations where none of these factors is present, the question of consent often comes down to the word of the victim against the word of the perpetrator, unless others were witness to the act or physical evidence suggests that the act was not consensual.

Defenses to Sexual Assault

There are several defenses available to individuals who have been charged with sexual assault. First and foremost, criminal charges require that the prosecutor prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. If an alleged perpetrator is able to negate an element of the prosecutor’s case, or poke holes in the theory of the case, this can help to establish innocence and obtain a not-guilty verdict. Thus, for instance, if you are charged with an assault occurring late on a Friday evening, but can show that you were with friends at that time, this will make it difficult for the prosecutor to establish that you were the perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt. This is particularly important in cases of mistaken identity, since sexual assaults sometimes occur in situations where it is difficult for the victim to get a good sense of the perpetrator.

Second, a defendant may also argue that the victim consented to the sexual act, thereby disproving the victim’s contention that the sexual contact was unwanted. This is a difficult defense and often requires having solid evidence of consent, such as the testimony of a witness who saw the victim encourage the defendant’s conduct or agree to it. Where no extraneous evidence is available to establish consent, or lack thereof, a trial may often center on establishing the credibility of the defendant as opposed to the victim and can quickly devolve into attacks on one’s character. This is rarely a good approach because juries typically respond negatively to such attacks.

Punishment for Sexual Assault

If a defendant is found guilty of sexual assault, he or she will be sentenced by a judge. Sentences vary widely by state, but they often include jail time and a fine. When the sexual assault is particularly violent or aggressive, or the defendant has a history of violent crime, the judge may consider these as aggravating factors and increase the sentence imposed.

Additionally, defendants found guilty of committing a sex crime can be required to register as a sex offender, which is a public designation that can be obtained by employers, neighbors, and police authorities. This designation can have a very damaging effect on future career opportunities and even on where one can purchase a home.