What Is Sexual Assault?

Laws regarding sexual assault can be confusing. Whether you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual assault, or you are facing sexual assault charges, it is important to understand the terminology around sexual assault, what is and is not considered sexual assault, and what legal charges mean for both the victim and the accused.

The U.S. Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any non-consensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, Tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.” A person may be unable to give proper consent due to age, mental or physical disability, or the influence of drugs or alcohol. States and localities may have different regulations regarding their definition of sexual assault, but it is typically regarded as any non-consensual sexual contact.

Types of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a very broad term, and many unwanted or otherwise non-consensual sexual actions fall into this category of offense. The National Institute of Justice identifies some of the most common examples of sexual assault as:

  • intentional touching of the victim’s genitals, breasts, anus, or groin
  • undesired exposure to pornography or exhibitionism
  • voyeurism
  • public display of images or video taken in a private context or without the victim’s knowledge

In the state of Pennsylvania, the above offenses are defined as felonies of the second degree.

Sexual Assault and Rape

In general, rape is considered a form of sexual assault, but not all types of sexual assault are rape. In Pennsylvania, a person has committed rape when they engage in sexual intercourse with another person:

  • By forcible compulsion.
  • By threat of forcible compulsion that would prevent resistance by a person of reasonable resolution.
  • Who is unconscious or where the person knows that the complainant is unaware that the sexual intercourse is occurring.
  • Where the person has substantially impaired the complainant’s power to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering or employing, without the knowledge of the complainant, drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance.
  • Who suffers from a mental disability which renders the complainant incapable of consent.

The primary distinction between rape and other sexual assault offenses is the act of non-consensual sexual intercourse. Unlike other sexual assault offenses, rape is considered a first-degree felony, meaning a person convicted of rape may face up to twenty years imprisonment and a fine of up to $25,000.

Sexual Assault Statistics

Sexual assault is a serious matter that affects victims for their entire lives. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) reports that

  • One in three women and one in six men in the United States experienced some form of sexual assault or violence in their lifetime
  • 91 percent of sexual assault victims are female, and nine percent are male
  • At least 81 percent of female sexual assault victims and 35 percent of male victims report some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) directly related to their experiences
  • Roughly 63 percent of sexual assault offenses are never reported to police

Legal Action

The Pennsylvania penal code, Chapter 55, § 5552 (b.1), establishes the statute of limitations for sexual assault offenses at 12 years. This means that prosecution must commence within 12 years from the date of the alleged offense. In cases where the complainant was a minor at the time of the alleged offense(s), however, the statute of limitations is increased until the complainant is 50 years old.

Often, victims of sexual assault feel uneasy about reporting offenses. Because of the complexity of sexual assault laws, codes, and definitions, many victims find it difficult to seek legal action against their assailants. Often, victims of sexual assault feel stigmatized by their experiences and choose not to seek legal aid and action against their assailants. However, this does nothing but further the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological trauma felt over the long run.

Facing sexual assault charges can destroy a person’s name or reputation, even if acquitted of the crime. Without proper legal guidance and counsel, you may not fully understand the legal proceedings, how to lessen your conviction, or how to prove allegations were falsified.

At the Skinner Law Firm, we pride ourselves in doing the best we can for every client. We know that the legal processes surrounding sexual assault are daunting, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, or you are facing charges of sexual assault, and need assistance taking legal action, contact us online today or call us at (610) 436-1410.

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