What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault (or sexual offense) is an action that happens when one person either forces or threatens another person to involuntarily engage in a sexual act, or if the perpetrator sexually touches their victim without that person’s permission. Sexual assault is also referred to as sexual violence in some cases and can be a criminal offense. The act that was committed must have been intentional and intended to create harm to the other person before criminal charges can be sought.
What kinds of sexual offenses exist?
The state of Maryland currently categorizes sexual offenses into four degrees. They are as follows:
- First degree: Using threat, force or a lack of consent by the victim to engage in sexual activity. The accused person could commit the act while a burglary is also taking place, with another individual’s assistance, physically injuring or suffocating the victim, or by threatening their target with serious bodily harm or death.
- Second degree: The perpetrator is involved in sexual activity with a person who was under 14 years of age at the time and the accused was at least four years older or more than the plaintiff. Second-degree sexual assault charges can also be brought up if the defendant engaged in unwanted sexual activity with a person who was obviously physically or mentally incapacitated at the time or if the accused did not obtain consent from or forced their victim to become involved in the sexual act.
- Third degree: One or more of these requirements must be present:
- The victim was under 14 years of age and the accused was at least 4 years older than the plaintiff.
- An unwanted sexual act occurred for the purposes of abuse or sexual gratification.
- The sexual act in question that took place was instigated by a person 21 years of age or older against a person who was 14 or 15 years old at the time. This is also referred to as statutory rape.
- The victim was physically or mentally incapacitated at the time of the incident, and the accused person was aware of their victim’s condition.
- Fourth degree: Any one or more of these situations could constitute fourth-degree sexual assault.
- A sexual act involving a child who was under 18 years old at the time that was instigated by a person in a position of authority (teacher, counselor, coach, principal, etc.) at the school that the victim was attending at the time that the act was committed.
- Any sexual act that occurred without permission from the victim.
- A sexual act with a person under 14 years of age and a person who is at least 4 years older than the plaintiff.
What are the penalties for sexual offenses?
Actual or attempted first degree sexual offenses can result in life imprisonment for the defendant. Judges may award a life term without parole if the accused person is over 18 years of age, and the sexual act was committed with a person who was under 13 years old at the time. The same sentence could also be handed down if the defendant raped a kidnap victim who was under 16 years old at the time or if the perpetrator has already been convicted of another first-degree sexual offense or rape in the first degree.
The minimum sentence under current law for a first-degree sexual offense that was committed by a person who is 18 years of age or older against someone who is under 13 years old is 25 years in prison. A person who is found guilty of that crime will not qualify for parole. Their sentence cannot be suspended by the court, either.
Attempted or actual second-degree offenses are punishable by a prison term of up to 20 years. The minimum sentence for a second-degree sexual assault against someone under 13 years old by a person who is 18 or older is 15 years in jail. The maximum sentence in that same scenario is life in prison.
If the sexual offense was classified as statutory rape, that is a second-degree sexual offense. It is considered a felony. Offenders can be ordered to serve up to 20 years in prison for that crime.
Third-degree sexual assault is also labeled a felony. Offenders could be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail. Fourth-degree sexual assault is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a prison term of no more than one year. Another two years in jail can be added to the sentence if the defendant has already been found guilty of committing another sex crime.
A sexual assault conviction will also require the defendant to register as a sex offender. That person may remain on the sex offender registry for anywhere from 15 years to the rest of their natural life, based on the actual crime that occurred. Being listed on the sex offender registry can affect a person’s ability to find employment or housing.
What should I do if I’ve been sexually assaulted?
If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you should ask for help as soon as possible. You may also contact or be contacted by your local law enforcement office. Even though it may be unpleasant, it’s important to answer all questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge. An officer may take photographs of any injuries that you suffered and ask for a statement from you.
What can I do if I’ve been accused of sexual assault?
You can seek legal counsel or represent yourself in a sexual assault case. You will be the defendant in the case, and the person seeking relief will be referred to as the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s side may present evidence, testimony and witnesses to counter your claims of innocence. You must be able to prove to the judge presiding over the trial that the alleged sexual misconduct did not occur. You can also call in your own witnesses and supply testimony and evidence that will be taken into consideration.
Sexual assault is a sensitive subject. It’s never easy to discuss, no matter if you’ve been accused of a sexual offense or were a victim of a sex crime. We’re here to help in those types of situations. Contact us today to set up a free consultation. Our trained professionals will listen to what happened and provide advice as to what you can do next. We can also represent you in court if you want.
It will take some time to heal. We want you to get back to enjoying life as soon as possible. That’s why we’re willing to do what we can to ensure that your side of the story is properly presented. There are bound to be people who will cast sexual assault victims and offenders in a negative light regardless of what actually occurred. Taking the proper steps to ignore the skeptics and focus on what really matters can make the difficult tasks much more bearable. You’ll probably be back to being your confident, positive self before you realize it.