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Sexual assault charges are serious allegations that can tarnish one’s reputation for many years. Even after serving the full jail term, a sexual assault conviction haunts past offenders because records are made available to the public. California has numerous sexual assault laws that address individual charges, but this article will highlight the most common.

How does California define “Sexual Assault”?

The term “sexual assault” is broad and can legally define numerous offenses under California law. Generally, sexual assault is any sexual conduct or behavior against another without their expressed consent. Some sexual behaviors included under the term sexual assault include but are not limited to forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, incest, fondling, child molestation, and rape.

The most common types of sexual assault charges in California

All sex crimes generally relate to coercion and are therefore illegal, but here are a few common sexual assault charges prosecutors seek in court:


For many people, the term rape gives a mental picture of assault through violent physical force. While this does happen in some rape cases, the reality is that rape is any form of non-consensual sexual activity, including those accomplished without physical force.

Under current California law, rape is the penetrative act of sexual intercourse against the victim who is not the offender’s spouse and who doesn’t provide consent. The keyword here is “consent,” which accords everyone the right to determine what happens to their body. Contrary to popular belief, rape isn’t just a forced act perpetrated by a stranger. Instead, rape can also be said to have occurred in any of the following circumstances:

  • When the perpetrator ignores any verbal resistance from the victim, including “no,” “stop,” or “I don’t want to.”
  • If the victim is unable to express her or his consent because he or she is either intoxicated by drugs, asleep, unconscious, or mentally incapacitated
  • When the victim is coerced employing force, violence, fear, or unlawful bodily injury
  • If the perpetrator threatens to retaliate in the future

The bottom line is this; any form of sexual conduct forced upon a victim against her or his will is considered rape under California law.

Sexual Assault

Technically, rape and other sex crimes are forms of sexual assault. But it’s important to note that a wide range of criminal offenses can be charged individually as “sexual assault.” In Section 243.4 of the California Penal Code, sexual assault is defined as touching another’s intimate parts against her or his will with the intent to cause your sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse. For instance, any unwanted groping, kissing, rubbing, or forcible touching against the victim’s will is considered sexual assault.

The operative word in this law is intent. It won’t be considered sexual assault if a stranger brushes past you and accidentally touches an intimate part of your body.

Child Sexual Abuse

California has a zero-tolerance policy for sex crimes involving children, which is why these offenses are prosecuted very aggressively in the Golden State and often have severe penalties. In the eyes of the law, a minor cannot consent to any form of sexual activity with an adult. In addition, unlike other forms of sexual assault, child sexual abuse doesn’t require the perpetrator to be in physical contact with their victim. The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act provides a myriad of examples of child sexual abuse but here are just a few to mention:

  • Lewd and lascivious acts with a minor by force
  • Engaging or sharing child pornography
  • Child prostitution
  • Molesting a child with a sexual interest in the child
  • Intercourse with a child
  • Sex trafficking

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is another broad term used with various sex crimes and can be just as serious. Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual conduct that interferes with one’s work, life, or education. Just like child sexual abuse, sexual harassment doesn’t have to exclusively include physical acts but rather any action that impacts the victim by creating a hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment can be quite nuanced, and sometimes it can be a grey area whether something is harassment or not. For instance, one of the most common manifestations of a hostile work environment is being discriminated against based on your sex. However, the harasser doesn’t even need to be of the opposite sex; men can harass men, and the same goes for women.

That being said, a sexual harassment allegation needs to prove that the behavior was both subjectively and objectively offensive to the victim. Subjective behavior means the conduct needs to be unwelcome to the victim and must have caused enough emotional distress to affect his or her ability to perform at work. At the same time, the conduct must be such that any reasonable person would find it objectively offensive, abusive, or hostile.

Penalties for sexual assault

In California, sexual assault can be convicted as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor conviction could lead to either a maximum of 6 months or 1 year in jail, depending on the circumstances. The offender will also be subjected to up to $2,000 in criminal fines or $3,000 if the victim is an employee.

A felony conviction, on the other hand, comes with either a 2, 3, or 4-year jail sentence in state prison and a $10,000 maximum fine. Besides serving jail time, offenders of certain sex crimes will also have to register as sex offenders. Depending on the conviction and the crime in question, offenders will either register as sex offenders for a minimum of 10 years or life.

Why you need a criminal attorney

When facing serious allegations of sexual assault, you need to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you in court. Prosecutors can be ruthless, and they will not hesitate to seek the maximum sentence for your charges. A criminal defense attorney will investigate your case further to determine if you were wrongfully charged, and they may also be able to negotiate better terms for your conviction.

Alison Saros is determined to put her experience to work for you because she believes every defendant needs a fighting chance. To schedule your first consultation at Saros Law APC, call (310) 341-3466 now.

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