Sexual assault is a serious crime in any state. Although different states apply different specific definitions, the basic concept is the same – sexual assault is any type of unwanted sexual contact that is secured through force, the threat of force, or some sort of coercion. Additionally, even non-forcible sexual contact with someone considered incapable of providing meaningful consent — a child under 16 years of age, for example, or someone too intoxicated to resist — constitutes sexual assault.
Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Harassment
Sexual assault is not the same as sexual harassment, although both are illegal. Put simply (perhaps too simply), sexual assault is generally physical, whereas sexual harassment is generally verbal – repeated requests for unwanted sexual relations by someone in authority over you, for example. In either case it is the emotional distress, not the physical contact itself, that is the harm the law seeks to prevent.
Ambiguity – the Gray Areas
Is “stealing a kiss” under the mistletoe a form of sex abuse? Is holding someone’s hand a form of sexual contact? Does failing to resist when it is the underage person who is the sexual aggressor render the older person guilty of sexual assault? Sexual assault is notoriously difficult to define, and all of these activities might be considered sexual assault under a strict interpretation of the laws of some states, and especially under certain university codes of conduct.
Penalties for Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is considered both a criminal and a civil offense – in other words, you can be arrested for it, and you can be sued for it as well. On the criminal side, penalties can range from probation to life imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the conduct, the age of the victim and the state in which the conduct occurred.
On the civil side, the only limits on lawsuit compensation are imposed by state statutory caps on damages, and most states impose no such caps. Punitive damages maybe added to ordinary compensatory damages in some cases. Employers need to be particularly careful – an employer can be sued for the wrongful acts of its employees, even where the employer itself committed no wrongdoing and even actively sought to prevent it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What should I do if I have become a victim of sexual assault?
If you or your family member has become an abuse victim, your first action should be to seek medical attention immediately, especially if penetrative sex was involved, in order to gather evidence against the perpetrator. Your second action should be to report the crime to the police, so that the perpetrator can be arrested and will be unable to victimize anyone else. Your third action should be to contact an experienced sexual assault lawyer.
Who will pay my damages?
Depending on the circumstances, your damages may be paid by:
- The offender himself;
- An insurance company; or
- The offender’s employer.
Other resources may be available under certain circumstances.
What kind of damages will I be entitled to?
You will be entitled to compensation for the physical and emotional harm you have suffered. Since the emotional effects of sexual assault can last a lifetime, your damages could be quite high, depending on the specific nature of the conduct that was directed against you. You might even be eligible for punitive damages, although courts are typically reluctant to award punitive damages.
What are rape shield laws?
Rape shield laws refer to laws preventing the defense lawyer in a sexual assault case from probing into the alleged victim’s prior sexual history to prove consent existed on the occasion in question. In other words, the defense lawyer cannot assert that “I can prove that the victim had consensual sex with Tom, Dick and Harry; therefore, she must have consented to sex with my client as well.”
I was sexually assaulted by my husband. Do I have a claim?
Yes, you do – your husband has no right to force himself upon you sexually without your consent. Shockingly, the last U.S. state to criminalize spousal rape did not do so until 1993. Although the penalties for spousal rape are the same as the penalties for any other type of rape, under certain circumstances it can be difficult to prove that the husband realized that he didn’t have consent.
Can a man be sexually assaulted by a woman?
Yes, because sexual assault laws are theoretically gender-neutral. In practice, however, it may be more difficult for a man to prove lack of consent, especially if the encounter resulted in penetrative sex. Sexual assault laws also apply to gay people.
Can I win a sexual assault lawsuit even if the perpetrator was acquitted in criminal court?
It is certainly possible. The reason for this is that the standard of proof (how convincing your evidence needs to be for you to win the case) is far lower for a lawsuit than it is for a criminal prosecution. In other words, it is a lot easier to win a lawsuit than to secure a criminal conviction.
Hire a group of Sexual Assault Lawyers Today
Sexual assault is a form of personal injury, and sexual assault lawyers (or sexual abuse lawyers, as they are sometimes referred to) are personal injury lawyers. Our legal team has decades of combined experience working with victims of sexual abuse and instituting vigorous legal action on their behalf. We will aggressively seek maximum damages to compensate you for the sexual assault injury you have suffered. Remember – psychological injuries are often even more damaging than physical injuries.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation
Here at Edwards Pottinger, we vigorously represent victims of sexual abuse, and the personal injury attorneys of our law firm will fight relentlessly to make sure you receive every penny that you are entitled to. Call us at 800-400-1028 for a free, confidential consultation, so that we can discuss your legal options.
Our attorneys handle all forms of sexual assault claims, as well as other forms of personal injury claims. Remember – your secrets are always safe with us unless you give us your permission to release them – and if we don’t win your case, you won’t owe us a dime in legal fees.