Sex Offenses Law

What Are Differences Between Sexual Assault and Rape?

Some people talk about sexual assault and rape as the same thing. However, depending on state laws, they may be separate sex offenses. Different charges may have different consequences. In other states, they are treated as the same thing.

Sex crimes can depend on state law. If you are facing sex crime charges for rape or sexual assault, it is important to understand how your state defines the offense to defend yourself. Talk to a local sex crime defense lawyer for legal advice.

Rape and Sexual Assault Charges

Sexual assault and rape are types of sex crimes. However, depending on the jurisdiction, different states may use different terms for types of offenses, including:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual battery
  • Criminal sexual conduct
  • Spousal rape
  • Statutory rape
  • Forcible sexual acts

For example, Arkansas has separate offenses of rape and sexual assault. However, in Hawaii, both rape and sexual assault are charged as different degrees of sexual assault. Rape is prosecuted under the term sexual abuse in Iowa and criminal sexual conduct in Michigan.

Depending on the state, rape or sexual assault may require an element of force or coercion. Other states consider non-consensual sexual activity to be rape or assault.

What Is Rape?

In most states, the definition of rape involves genital, oral, or anal penetration by force or coercion.

For example, in Idaho, the definition of rape is limited to penetration, however slight, of the oral, anal, or vaginal opening with a penis. However, in Washington, rape is sexual intercourse that includes any penetration of the vagina or anus by an object and sexual contact between sex organs and the mouth or anus of another.

Some states include penetration without consent as rape, without a requirement of force or the threat of violence. There are different situations that can be included in rape charges, including force, coercion, lack of legal consent, or by fraud, including:

  • Victim cannot give legal consent because they are underage
  • Victim cannot give consent because of a mental disability
  • Victim does not consent to sexual intercourse
  • Use of force or threat of violence
  • Victim is “physically helpless” and cannot resist because of drugs or alcohol
  • Victim is unconscious
  • Victim submits under false belief about the other person

Statutory Rape and Rape

Statutory rape is a kind of sex offense that involves sex with someone who is under the age of consent. The age of consent is the age when someone is old enough to legally consent to have sex. If someone is under the age of consent, they cannot give legal consent, even if they say the sexual activity is consensual.

Statutory rape can be punished the same as rape even when there is no force or violence. Some states have exceptions to statutory rape when the people are within a few years of each other, even if one is under the age of consent. Find out about the age of consent laws in your state to understand when sex can be considered statutory rape.

Spousal Rape

Some states have separate criminal charges for spousal rape. For example, in Idaho, a spouse can be charged with rape for penetration by force, threat, drugs or alcohol, or coercion. Most states do not have spousal rape laws and can charge spouses under existing rape or sexual assault statutes.

What Is Sexual Assault?

In some states, sexual assault is a broader term that includes other types of sexual contact or sexual violence. Forms of sexual assault generally include unwanted sexual contact between a body part and the mouth, genitals, or anus of another, without the victim’s consent. This can include physical force, threat of harm, or date rape under the effects of alcohol.

What Are the Penalties for Rape and Sexual Assault?

Rape and sexual assault cases are generally charged as felony offenses but there may be different degrees, depending on the situation. As a felony crime, the defendant can face years in prison, fines, and have to be on parole for years. Factors that can increase the penalties for rape and sexual assault can include:

  • Underage child victims
  • Use of violence
  • Use of a deadly weapon
  • Prior sexual assault or rape charges
  • when the act is committed by two or more offenders
  • abduction is part of the offense
  • when the offender is in a position of trust of the victim

Anyone convicted of sexually violent crimes or crimes against children may be required to register as a sex offender after they are released. Sex offender registries are available to the public to search for the name and address of sex offenders, including their sex crime convictions.

What Are Defenses to Sexual Assault?

Just because you are accused of sexual assault does not mean that you are guilty. There are legal defenses to rape and sexual assault charges. A sex crime defense attorney can look at your case and build a legal defense to give you the best chance to avoid a criminal conviction. Possible criminal defenses include:

  • Consent
  • There was no penetration

Consent is not always a defense. Some victims of rape are not able to consent because of their age. Others can’t give meaningful consent because of a disability or mental illness. Drugs or alcohol, even when consumed voluntarily, can also leave someone without the ability to legally consent to sex acts.

Talk to a sex crime defense lawyer about your case and your legal defense options. In some cases, your attorney can also negotiate with the district attorney to reduce your charges to a misdemeanor to avoid a felony criminal record.

Was this helpful?