What Are the Sexual Assault Laws in the United States?
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What Are the Sexual Assault Laws in the United States?

Sexual assault is an incredibly damaging and heinous crime, and laws across the United States prosecute it as such. However, different states may have different definitions when it comes to concepts of consent and sexual violence. In addition, different states assign varying civil and criminal penalties to sexual assault cases. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, your pathway to justice may depend on the state in which you reside.

What Is Sexual Assault?

As mentioned previously, definitions of what counts as sexual assault may differ from state to state. However, sexual assault generally involves any crime where a perpetrator touches the victim in a sexual manner without the consent of the victim. Sexual assault crimes can include groping and fondling, sexual battery, forced oral sex, and rape.

The definition of consent is important when determining whether or not the perpetrator committed an act of sexual assault. While different states may have varied definitions, the law generally states that each party in a sexual encounter must give their free and informed consent.

A person cannot force, coerce, threaten, or manipulate someone into giving consent. In addition, people who do not have the mental or physical capacity to consent cannot give consent, such as people with severe disabilities, people who are asleep, minors under the age of consent, and people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Sexual Assault Statistics

While sexual assault is an incredibly harmful crime, it is also unfortunately common across the country. The National Center for Victims of Crime provides the following statistics on the prevalence of sexual assault in the United States.

  • Only 49.6% of rape victims report these crimes to the police.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men report being a victim of rape.
  • Over 50% of female rape victims were in an intimate relationship with their attacker. 40.8% of female victims knew their attacker as a friend or acquaintance.
  • 8% of male rape victims report experiencing their first assault while they were under the age of 10.

It is important to remember that sexual assault can occur between anyone and can happen in any place. Sexual partners must obtain consent before any sexual encounter, even if they have a previous relationship. Sexual assault can occur between spouses and other romantic partners, acquaintances and friends, and even family members.


Why Is Sexual Assault Under-reported?

Sexual assault survivors often do not report their assault to law enforcement, despite federal and state laws being in place to protect them and bring their perpetrators to justice. While sexual assault laws exist, a large portion of reported sexual assault crimes do not lead to arrest. In addition, survivors may feel intimidated by law enforcement, scared of the repercussions of reporting the crime, and unsure how to navigate the necessary legal processes.

However, reporting an act of sexual assault can result in justice for the survivor, and is often a necessary step on the path to healing. While undergoing this process alone can seem daunting, hiring a sexual assault attorney to assist with the case can prove the survivor with the support and assistance he or she needs.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault residing in the United States, legal options are available to you. With an attorney on your side, you have a strong chance of bringing your attacker to justice due to increased access to resources, a breadth of knowledge on the strategies necessary to build a compelling case in your favor, and the ability to pursue both civil and criminal courses of action.

You can choose to press criminal charges to punish the perpetrator for his or her actions, and you can also file a lawsuit in civil court to claim compensation for the emotional, physical, and financial damages you suffered as a result of the assault. Speak to a sexual assault attorney as soon as possible to discuss your pathway to justice, and to begin planning your next steps.