What Is (and Isn't) Legally Considered Sexual Assault?
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What Is (and Isn’t) Legally Considered Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a serious crime that can have devastating impacts on survivors, both emotionally and physically. However, it can be difficult to define what constitutes sexual assault under the law, and when you can hold someone accountable for this crime. Sexual assault can encompass many different acts that all have one major factor in common: lack of consent.

The Definition of Sexual Assault

According to the Office on Women’s Health, sexual assault includes any type of sexual activity or contact that occurs without your consent. Sexual assault can encompass many different types of activities, including physical, verbal, visual, or non-contact assault.

  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Fondling or unwanted touching
  • Sexual harassment or threats
  • Exhibitionism or flashing
  • Sexual coercion
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts
  • Sending unwanted texts and pictures of a sexual nature
  • Voyeurism or peeping

Many people think of rape when they think of sexual assault when in reality, rape is a specific type of sexual assault. Sexual assault can encompass everything from an unwanted message to coercion. The major defining factor of this crime is the absence of consent.

What Is Consent?

For any sexual activity to be lawful, all parties involved must give their consent. Different states have different laws regarding the definition of consent, but the basic concept remains the same: all people involved in sexual activity must give a clear yes to the activity. Lack of consent does not mean yes, and any sexual contact without consent is sexual assault.

Some people cannot legally give consent to sexual activity. Minors under the age of consent or people with an intellectual disability cannot give consent. In addition, you must know and understand what is happening and have a clear mind. If you are unconscious, asleep, or blacked out after using drugs and alcohol, you cannot give consent because you are not aware of what is happening.

In addition, consent must be freely given – if you consent to sexual activity under threat, force, coercion, or manipulation, it is not legally consent. Consent is also an ongoing process – you can withdraw your consent at any time during sexual activity and consenting during sexual activity in the past is not a guarantee for consent in the future.

What to Do After a Sexual Assault

The moments after sexual assault can be disorienting and scary, but they are also crucial moments when it comes to seeking help. As soon as you can, get to a safe place away from the perpetrator and follow these steps.

  • If you are in immediate danger or need medical attention, call 911. This will bring emergency services and law enforcement to your location.
  • Do not wash or clean your body, including brushing your teeth or your hair. These acts may wash away important physical evidence that could aid in your future case.
  • Visit a hospital to receive treatment for any injuries and to receive a forensic medical exam. Save all pieces of documentation you receive from the hospital.
  • Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for assistance on reporting your case and to receive emotional support. You can call the hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) at any time.
  • Report the assault to law enforcement officers. If you are in immediate danger, call 911 to report the assault; if the assault happened in the past, call the non-emergency number for your local station.
  • Contact an attorney to discuss your legal options. Your attorney will be able to walk you through reporting the assault to police, filing criminal charges against the perpetrator, and pursuing civil action.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you are not alone. Legal help is available to allow you a path for recovery and to overcome your damages. If you need assistance with your sexual assault case or to determine whether or not you experienced a sexual assault, contact a rideshare sexual assault attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.