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Rape vs. Sexual Assault
(Facts, Definitions, Laws, and Punishments)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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Rape and sexual assault are two distinct crimes with different definitions and penalties. It is vital to know the difference between the two to ensure that you are aware of your legal rights and can make informed decisions in the event of an incident.

As an experienced criminal defense attorney for over ten years, I know the significance of distinguishing between rape and sexual assault.

This article will offer a detailed overview of rape and sexual assault, covering their legal definitions and associated punishments.

Quick Summary

  • Rape and sexual assault are different crimes with different legal definitions and penalties.
  • Rape is defined as non-consensual sexual intercourse that occurs through the use of physical force, threats, or coercion with the purpose of sexual gratification.
  • Penalties for rape and sexual assault vary depending on the crime and the state in which it occurred.

Rape V.S. Sexual Assault

A woman scared in an office workplaceRape is committed when a person engages in non-consensual sexual intercourse with another person through physical force or threats.

On the other hand, sexual assault is committed when a person participates in any sexual contact, such as touching a person’s intimate parts, without their consent for sexual gratification.

In states that distinguish between rape and sexual assault, both crimes involve sexual acts committed without the victim’s consent [1]. 

What is Rape?

Rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse through physical force, threats, or coercion [2]. For sexual intercourse to be considered rape, it must occur without the victim’s consent.

Consent is an essential element of sexual contact; without it, any sexual activity is considered rape. Rape can occur between people of any gender and involve vaginal, anal, or oral penetration for sexual gratification. 

Based on the cases I worked on, almost 90% of rape victims said they were acquainted with their attackers.

When Is It Considered Rape?

A lawyer looking at a law book

It is considered rape when a person engages in sexual intercourse with someone without their consent. If a person is physically or mentally incapacitated, they cannot consent.

Using physical contact, force, threats, or coercion to obtain sexual intercourse is also considered rape. It is important to understand that statutory rape is a distinct and separate sex crime from rape. 

To determine whether a sexual act is consensual or a crime, you must consider three main factors:

1. It is essential to establish whether both participants are old enough to consent.

A lawyer looking at a law book for laws about consentEach state sets an age of consent, the minimum age a person must be to engage in sexual activity legally. Individuals below this age are considered minors and cannot legally consent, even if they agree to engage in sexual activity. The age of consent varies by state, with most conditions set at 16 or 18 years old [3]. 

In some states, the age of consent may vary based on the age difference between the participants. Still, it is essential to ensure that both parties can legally participate unless it can be considered statutory rape, and the older party will be registered as a sex offender. 

It is crucial to know the age of consent in your state, and you can contact organizations like A Safe Place Hotline or the National Sexual Assault Hotline to learn more.

2. It is necessary to determine if both participants can consent.

Each state defines who has the mental and legal capacity to provide consent. For instance, individuals with disabilities, older people, or those who have been drugged or unconscious may lack the legal ability to consent. 

The categories and definitions of diminished capacity vary by state.

3. It is crucial to establish if both participants agreed to engage in sexual activity.

If someone uses physical force or threats to make the other person have sexual contact, it constitutes rape.

It is irrelevant if the other person initially agreed to the sexual act or if both participants have already started having sex. 

Punishment For Rape

Penalties for criminal rape charges vary depending on the circumstances of the crime and the state in which it occurred. In general, rape is considered a felony offense and is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for years.

The sentence’s length depends on the crime’s severity and the offender’s criminal history.

What is Sexual Assault?

A woman crying with her hands on her faceSexual assault is unwanted sexual contact, including sexual touching or penetration, without the person’s consent [4]. Sexual assault can occur between people of any gender and involve any body part.

Sexual assault may be called different names depending on the jurisdiction, such as sexual battery, sexual abuse, or sexual contact. Like rape, sexual battery is usually considered a felony and can lead to several years of imprisonment if convicted.

Unwanted sexual contact refers to non-consensual sexual contact that does not involve rape or attempted rape.

Read Also: What is Second-Degree Sexual Assault?

“Most state laws, however, have abandoned this narrow definition of a sex offense in favor of the more gender-neutral and broader term “sexual assault.”
U.S. Department of Justice

When Is It Considered Sexual Assault?

A lawyer reading a law book in an officeIt is considered sexual assault when a person engages in sexual contact with another person without their consent.

Sexual assault can involve touching, kissing, or any other sexual activity without the victim’s consent.

An example of sexual assault is when an individual touches a woman’s breasts without her consent.

You must also know that sexual assault may not necessarily involve sexual intercourse or penetration.

Punishment for Sexual Assault

Penalties for sexual assault vary depending on the circumstances of the crime and the state in which it occurred.

Sexual assault is also considered a felony offense in most states and is punishable by imprisonment for years. The sentence’s length depends on the crime’s severity and the offender’s criminal history.

Related Articles:

See all related sexual abuse lawsuits our attorneys have taken on.

FAQs

What Are The Effects of Sexual Assault And Sexual Violence?

The effects of ​​sexual assault and sexual violence include physical injuries, emotional trauma, self-blame and shame, trust issues, substance abuse, disruption to daily life, and financial difficulties are some of the effects that survivors may experience. 

What Is Consent?

Consent is an essential element of sexual activity. It is an agreement between two people to engage in sexual activity.

What Is The Legal Definition of Statutory Rape?

The legal definition of statutory rape is that it is a type of sexual assault that occurs when a person engages in sexual activity with someone below the age of consent, typically set at 18 years old.

Talk To A Criminal Defense Attorney Now 

If you want to charge someone with rape and sexual harassment charges, seeking legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial. 

At Schmidt & Clark, LLP Law Firm, we have a team of skilled attorneys who can guide rape victims through the legal process and defend their rights. Don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation and to discuss your legal options. 


References:

  1. https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/what-difference-between-rape-and-sexual-assault
  2. https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/updated-definition-rape
  3. https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/age-of-consent-by-state
  4. https://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault

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