The Difference Between Sexual Battery, Sexual Assault, & Rape

Sexual battery is non-consensual (IE: unwanted) contact with intimate parts of another person’s body. “Intimate parts” is a term that can mean a person’s genitals, anus, buttocks, or groin. If the person is a woman, the term can also include breasts. Sexual battery is always a crime. Depending upon the circumstances of a case, this crime is either a misdemeanor or a felony and may be punishable by jail time, a monetary fine, probation, or all the above.

Laws pertaining to sexual crimes vary based on the state they were committed in. While the basic definition is the same, penalties and punishments differ. A victim’s age and the type of unwanted sexual contact may also have a bearing on a perpetrator’s sentencing if guilty verdict is rendered.

Due to the nature of sexual crimes, additional charges like sexual assault and rape may be added to sexual battery. Each of these, by definition, can occur within the same incident – and often do. The similarities in these charges may cause some to become confused as to what the differences are. Some people may not even be aware that there is a difference between these crimes.

It bears repeating here that state laws differ, but the following is a basic explanation of these three sexually-related crimes:

 

Sexual Battery

A sexual battery victim may have been fully clothed or naked at the time of the incident. What they were wearing – or not wearing – has no bearing on if a crime took place. Anytime a person is touched on an intimate body part in a sexual way, and the touching is not wanted, this is considered by law to be sexual battery. In some states, restraining a victim may also be included in the description of sexual battery.

 

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can describe any number of sexual crimes ranging from unwanted groping to rape. Used as an umbrella term for these incidents, sexual assault is often used interchangeably with sexual battery. The two differ primarily in that sexual battery is a more specific charge.

 

Rape

Forcible rape is defined by the Uniform Crime Report as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

 

History of Sexual Battery Under the Law

Historically, sexually-related charges were difficult to successfully prosecute in court due to antiquated and misinformed definitions. For example, prior to 2012, many courts took the position that only women could be raped. Some courts also operated under the opinion that forcible oral penetration or forcible penetration with a physical object did not constitute rape. In recent decades, many states have also abandoned the idea of “marital exemption” and have adopted, instead, the position that a spouse may also be accused and found guilty of the sexual assault or rape of their partner.

Prior to 2012, many limited ideas about rape hadn’t been legally adjusted since 1927. Today, a lot more is understood about the nature of rape, sexual battery, and sexual assault.

 

Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Battery

Sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender. With consent being a determining factor in most cases of adult victims, even sex workers may be victimized by these crimes if consent is not present. People of any age or gender may also be accused of such crimes. Children as young as six years old have been accused of sexual assault and, while most think of a perpetrator as being male, it should be noted that scores of women have also been accused of sexual crimes. In California, it is estimated that as many as one-third of all sexual assault victims are male.

 

What Does a Sexual Way Mean?

Often, the touching involved in a sexual battery incident is done in a sexual way. This simply means the accused touched a person in a way that aroused the perpetrator or that the touching took place as the perpetrator was seeking some sort of sexual gratification from the act. Sometimes this may even include violent and other forms of sexual abuse, which may have been initiated by a perpetrator solely for that person’s arousal or search for sexual gratification.

 

Consent Matters

It should be noted that consent always matters when it comes to accusations of sexual battery. The mere act of touching another person’s intimate areas is not a crime unless the person being touched does not want it to take place. Even if the person does not seem to resist the touching or does not verbalize the fact they do not want to be touched, express consent has not been given and the touching may still legally qualify as sexual battery.

A person drunk from consuming alcohol or high on some substance cannot, by law, consent to a sexual act. Also, people who are permanently or even temporarily incapacitated cannot consent to any form of sexual contact.

 

Sexual Battery and Children

Children can never consent to sexual contact of any sort, even if that contact is initiated by another child. Courts throughout the United States will not even question whether consent was obtained in cases involving children under a certain age. The exact age of consent varies by state, but it always pertains to teenagers. However, matters of consent for minors is only taken into consideration in statutory rape cases and when seeking to apply some form of a Romeo and Juliet law after a person has been charged.

 

Examples of Differences in State Laws and Penalties

In Florida, incidents that would be described elsewhere as rape or sexual assault are charged as sexual battery. Persons found guilty of sexual battery can receive a penalty of up to 30 years to life in prison. If the victim was a child under the age of 12 and the perpetrator was over the age of 18, this can lead to a capital sexual battery conviction and may be punishable by death.

In California, felony sexual battery can lead to a conviction of up to 4 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

As these two states make clear, there is no single punishment for sexual battery which is applied nationwide. Just as with most laws, states decide how to classify, prosecute, and punish sexually-related crimes.

 

Are All Sexual Battery Crimes a Felony?

Some sexual battery crimes are not a felony. For example, in California, depending on the circumstances involved, an incident of sexual battery may only qualify as a misdemeanor. A person convicted of such a crime in that state may still face a punishment of several months in jail, as well as a fine up to the amount of $2,000.

To find out if sexual battery is a felony in a state, please contact an attorney or your local courts.

 

Do All Sexual Battery Charges Result In Conviction?

With good legal representation, it is possible to avoid a sexual battery conviction. Some of the more successful defenses require proof of:

It is not uncommon for someone truly innocent of sexual battery to have charges dropped or reduced depending upon the circumstances of an individual case.

 

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Sexual Battery?

Laws concerning statutes of limitations may vary according to jurisdiction. In some states, the statute of limitations may be up to 10 years. In others, like California, a statute of limitations may not exist for sexually-related crimes occurring after January 1, 2017.

 

Further Information

Sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape are serious, yet largely under-reported crimes. Anyone victimized by such a crime is advised to immediately make local law enforcement aware of the incident and take proper legal action to identify and charge the person responsible. People who have been accused of sexual battery should also immediately seek legal counsel from a reputable attorney experienced in defending individuals charged with sexual crimes.

For more information on sexual battery and other sex crimes, please visit our article archives.

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