Sexual Assault And The Law: A Brief Guide

The law considers sexual transgressions to be extremely serious and treats them accordingly. The statutes surrounding sexual assault are often somewhat complex and can vary from state to state. Unfortunately, the general public is typically not well-versed in this important area of the law. This article examines some basic facts about these crucial laws.


In general, the law defines sexual assault as sexual contact that occurs without a person's consent. Sexual assault is sometimes used as an umbrella term, so in some states, a perpetrator might be charged with rape, while in other states, the charge for the same crime might be first-degree sexual assault. Despite the different legal terminology, most people would consider both cases to meet the definition of a sexual assault.


The main legal issue surrounding sexual assault is the concept of consent. If a person does not consent to a sexual act, then the other individual has committed a crime. One of the main defenses offered by suspects in sexual assault cases is that the accuser actually consented to the activity and is now falsely claiming they did not. When there are no witnesses or strong forensic evidence to support a sexual assault allegation, a jury will often have to decide whether they find the accuser or defendant more believable regarding the issue of consent.

The law, however, makes a few exceptions to the consent defense. Certain individuals are considered to be incapable of giving legal consent to sexual activity. The most prominent example of this is when minors have sex with a person who is several years or more older than they are. The older person is violating the law even if the younger person gives their consent. This form of sexual assault is generally known as statutory rape.

Also, people who are mentally disabled are considered to be incapable of giving legal consent to sexual activity in some instances.

In some states, someone who is under the influence or protection of a person fo authority cannot give consent. For instance, a teacher having sex with a student would be guilty of sexual assault, even if that student was of legal age.


The penalties of sexual assault are often quite severe and can include lengthy jail sentences. Also, all states have sexual offender registries, which make public the names and addresses of sexual offenders.

To find out more about this area of the law, consult a sexual assault attorney.