Sex crimes can occur to anyone at anytime. Many victims blame themselves and don’t report the crime to the authorities out of fear or embarrassment. But, victims must understand their legal rights so they can seek the justice they deserve.

Sexual Assault vs. Rape

In California, sexual intercourse is considered rape when it occurs against the other person’s will or without the other person’s consent. Against the other person’s will means the sexual intercourse involved one of the following:

  • Physical force
  • Violence
  • Direct or implied threat
  • Fear of bodily harm
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Fraud

Legally, lack of consent means the victim was either too intoxicated to give consent, unable to give consent because of a physical or mental disorder or disability, or unconscious about the nature of the act, meaning the person was unconscious or asleep.

There are other forms of rape, such as statutory and spousal rapes, that are also illegal in California. Statutory rape involves a person having sex with an individual under the age of 18. Minors are not legally allowed to give consent, so any sexual intercourse with a minor is considered rape. Spousal rape is almost the same as rape, with the exception being the two parties involved are married.

Rape is just one type of sexual assault, but not all sexual assaults are rapes. In California, sexual assault is considered any unwanted touching of another person’s intimate parts including the groin, butt, breasts, and sexual organs, for sexual gratification, arousal or abuse. For example, a man intentionally grabbing or pinching a woman’s buttocks or fondling her breasts without her consent is sexual assault.

The crime is escalated to an aggravated sexual assault if the defendant unlawfully restrained the victim, or made the victim masturbate or touch his intimate parts. It can also be considered an aggravated sexual assault when the victim was institutionalized for medical treatment at the time of the crime, or was unaware of the nature of the act.

Contrary to popular belief, someone can commit sexual assault even if he is in a romantic relationship with the victim. As long as the behavior was unwanted, directed at the victim’s intimate parts and done for the purpose of sexual gratification, is it sexual assault.

What Must Be Proven

California law clearly states that the intent of sexual gratification, arousal or abuse must be present for an act to be considered sexual assault. An assailant may claim his behaviors had no sexual intent and that the victim misinterpreted the situation.  Or, defendants may try to show the behavior was consensual, so a sexual assault did not occur.

The issue of consent also comes up frequently in rape cases. Many defendants argue the victim consented to the sexual intercourse and it therefore should not be considered rape. An individual must be aware the sexual intercourse is occurring and freely consent to it for it to be legal. Individuals are allowed to verbally or physically show that they do not consent to sexual intercourse. If it can be shown that a reasonable person would have understood the verbal or physical cues of the victim showed a lack of consent, but sexual intercourse took place anyways, this is considered rape.

Criminal vs. Civil

Victims may pursue both criminal charges and a civil case against their assailant. If you are a victim of rape or any other form of sexual assault, the first thing you should do is seek medical attention if necessary and call the authorities. Many sex crimes lead to injuries, so getting medical treatment should be your first priority.

Once you are in touch with the authorities, provide them with as much information as possible—who the assailant is, what happened, when it occurred, and so on—so they can launch a full investigation into your claims. If charges are filed, you may be asked to serve as a witness for the state during their criminal prosecution of your assailant, but that is the only responsibility you will have during a criminal case. This case will determine the assailant’s innocence or guilt, and what consequences, if any, the assailant should receive to punish his behavior.

Victims also have the right to file a civil lawsuit against their assailant to receive damages for their emotional and physical injuries. It is the victim’s responsibility to initiate the civil lawsuit by hiring an attorney and filing the appropriate paperwork. The civil case does not determine guilt, but rather focuses on whether the defendant caused emotional and physical injuries to the victim. If a defendant is found not guilty in criminal court, that does not affect the outcome of your civil lawsuit against him, so don’t get discouraged. The two cases are completely independent of each other, so the outcome of one does not impact the outcome of the other.

What You Can Do If You’re A Victim

If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney to discuss your legal rights. The compassionate attorneys at Shegerian & Associates will be your closest allies in your fight for justice. Contact our attorneys today for legal assistance and a  thorough review of your case.