Jul 1, 2020
Coming forward about a sex crime can be a very difficult process, but in order to deal with a painful experience such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, or even rape, one needs to first understand what these terms mean and how they relate to the law. In what is already an emotionally taxing journey, knowing what qualifies as a sex crime can be a crucial first step in seeking what is often long overdue justice.
A number of different offenses fall under the umbrella term “sex crime,” but they generally relate to coerced – and therefore illegal – sexual conduct against another individual. Let’s begin with the most specific, and most serious, offense.
Under the current law in California, rape is defined as a penetrative act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator and who does not provide consent.
The operative word here is “consent,” which is your right to determine what happens to your body. This means that rape isn’t just what most people think it is – a forced act perpetrated by a stranger – it can occur in any of the following circumstances:
In other words, anything that compels a victim into a penetrative sex act without their given consent is considered rape.
Technically, rape is sexual assault. But it’s important to note that while rape is a specific form of sexual assault (namely, involving penetration), the term sexual assault can also cover a wider range of criminal acts. Sexual assault (also known as sexual battery) is defined by the California Penal Code as the touching of another person’s intimate parts (meaning a sexual organ, groin, anus, buttocks, or breast) against that person’s will and for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse. This means anything from unwanted groping, kissing, rubbing, or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways.
The key here is intent, meaning that if a stranger brushes past you at the supermarket and accidentally touches an intimate part of your body, it is not considered sexual assault. However, if a co-worker drunkenly gropes you at an office party or forcibly kisses you against your will, that is a criminal offense.
In California, sexual battery or sexual assault can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Examples of a misdemeanor can include:
This type of offense that doesn’t involve unlawful restraint is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. The fine can increase to $3,000 if the defendant was the victim’s employer.
Examples of a felony can include:
This has a range of punishments. The defendant could receive a term of imprisonment in county jail for up to one year and a fine of up to $2,000 if filed as a misdemeanor. However, if filed as a felony, it allows for imprisonment for two, three, or four years as well as a fine of up to $10,000.
Even though this is the broadest term within sex crimes, sexual harassment can be just as serious and is not to be taken lightly. It is also quite nuanced, so we’ll break it down into two categories:
This typically occurs in a professional environment in which a supervisor, either directly or impliedly, requires a subordinate to submit to sexual cooperation that is contingent on an adverse employment action, such as a demotion, or a termination. In other words, the stereotypical “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario. It’s not rape, because there is technically consent, but it’s a roundabout form of coercion, and therefore harassment.
This type of behavior doesn’t always include any type of sexual advance at all. One of its most common manifestations is gender harassment, which means being discriminated against based on your sex. This can include crude sexual jokes or images, degrading comments about bodies and sexual activities, sexist remarks about women being unfit for leadership positions or men being unfit for childcare. The harasser doesn’t even need to be of the opposite sex; men can harass men, and women can harass women.
Such actions are considered “sexual harassment” because they are based on the sex (or the gender) of the person, not necessarily because they are sexual in nature.
It can sometimes be a gray area whether or not something is harassment. It’s important to note that for this type of behavior to be illegal, it needs to be both subjectively and objectively offensive. Subjectively, the behavior needs to be “unwelcome” to the victim – meaning that it caused them some level of emotional distress and affected their ability to perform their job. At the same time, the behavior must be such that any reasonable person would find the behavior objectively offensive, hostile, or abusive. If these two criteria are met, then it’s sexual harassment.
Child molestation crimes are prosecuted very aggressively in the state of California, and will oftentimes result in much stricter penalties. These offenses can include:
Common perpetrators of child sexual abuse include:
Tragically, children often suffer in silence and it may take decades for a survivor of child sexual abuse to acknowledge or even remember what happened. It’s very important for parents and teachers to understand the signs given off by a child or teen who has been a victim. Some of these signs include:
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sex crime, the road to healing can be long and arduous, but it’s important to remember that you have legal options that can help you along the way.
As a victim of sexual assault, one of the first things you should know is that your case can be tried either in criminal or civil court – or both. A criminal case is handled as a crime against the state and brought to court by the state rather than by the accuser (you), and this can result in the perpetrator being convicted and sentenced to jail time. While this satisfies the need for justice, you won’t always have a say in the direction of a criminal case and may only appear as a witness for the prosecution. Moreover, any financial restitution awarded to you will usually be low, since it can only be collected from the perpetrator (who may not have many assets to begin with).
However, you also have the right to file a civil claim, which is handled by the accuser (you – also known as the “plaintiff” in this case and usually represented by an attorney).
Here, you can not only sue the perpetrator for damages, but also any other entity (such as the perpetrator’s employer) that may have been responsible for the perpetrator’s acts. This could entitle you to a much greater amount of financial compensation that can cover:
In civil cases, the time limit to file a claim depends on whether the victim is an adult or a child. If the assault occurred on or after the victim’s 18th birthday, they must file:
For children, the statute of limitations is much longer. According to California’s Child Victims Act, which took effect on January 1, 2020, childhood survivors of molestation will have until their 40th birthday to file a civil claim or up to five years from discovery of the psychological injury to the sexual abuse.
The act also opens up a three-year window starting January 1, 2020 that allows survivors of any age with expired claims to bring a civil lawsuit against their perpetrator (whether alive or dead), a private organization, or the government – no matter when the abuse occurred.
As a victim of sexual violence, you may often feel confused, afraid, alone – even angry or impatient. Of course, you have the right to pursue a civil case without representation, but without an attorney, it’s not certain that you’ll succeed, and – let’s face it – you’ve been through enough. It takes a great deal of bravery to come forward with your story, and it’s an internal battle that you had to fight, and win, on your own. Let us take care of the rest. At Dordulian Law Group, our sexual assault lawyers will take your accusations seriously and will aggressively fight for justice and compensation on your behalf.
We have a team of Sexual Assault Justice Experts (our SAJE Team) that has handled hundreds of sexual assault cases with a proven track record of successfully prosecuting countless assailants. By speaking up, you’ve done the hard part. Contact us today and let us be your voice the rest of the way forward.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.