What are Examples of Sexual Assault?

Unwanted sexual contact is more common than many realize. Though the legal definitions vary, sexual assault encompasses any nonconsensual sexual act or behavior, from groping to rape. Understanding what constitutes sexual assault can help protect yourself and others.

As Sacramento sexual assault attorneys who have represented survivors for over a decade, we know how confusing and traumatic these experiences can be. Our goal is to provide clarity and support so you can move forward in reclaiming your power.

Defining Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. This umbrella term covers everything from unwanted touching to forced penetration. The key factor is consent – if there is no consent, or consent cannot legally be given due to age, intoxication, or other factors, any sexual contact is considered assault or abuse.

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, sexual assault is broader than rape. Rape refers specifically to forced or coerced penetration. Legally, states have their own definitions of different sex crimes, but in general:

  • Sexual assault – Any unwanted sexual contact (touching, groping, oral sex, penetration, etc.)
  • Sexual harassment – Unwelcome sexual words or actions, typically in the workplace
  • Rape – Forced or manipulated penetration

The common thread is lack of consent. Consent must be affirmative, voluntary, and ongoing. It can be revoked at any time. Without clear consent, any sexual activity constitutes assault.

Examples of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can take many forms. Here are some examples:

Unwanted Sexual Touching

Also called groping or fondling, unwanted touching includes anything from pinching to rubbing against someone without consent. Grabbing breasts or genitals falls under this category. Though it may seem “less severe” than rape, all unwanted sexual contact is serious and traumatizing.

Attempted Rape

This refers to trying to force someone into penetrative sex against their will. Even if there is no completed rape, the trauma of the experience can be severe.

Forced Oral Sex

When someone is pressured or forced into performing oral sex on the perpetrator or having it performed on them, it is sexual assault. Manipulation, coercion, and threats all constitute lack of consent.


Penetration without consent is rape, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. This can involve physical force, weapons, threats, incapacitation due to drugs or alcohol, and other coercive tactics denying the victim the ability to consent.

Sexual Assault in Relationships

Intimate partners can and do commit sexual assault through unwanted sexual contact or forced sex. Relationship dynamics make reporting difficult, but it is still assault.

Drug/Alcohol Facilitated Sexual Assault

Incapacitating someone with substances to make them vulnerable to assault is illegal. Even if substances are taken voluntarily, consent cannot legally be given when intoxicated.

Sexual Coercion

Using pressure, manipulation, authority, or threats to make someone engage in unwanted sexual activity constitutes coercion. Examples include withholding benefits or professional advancement unless sexual favors are performed.

As you can see, the spectrum of unwanted sexual contact is wide. All of these acts are unacceptable violations, regardless of relationship with the perpetrator or circumstances.

The Perpetrators and Victims of Sexual Assault

Contrary to the “stranger danger” myth, around 8 out of 10 assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. According to RAINN, only about 7% of perpetrators are strangers to those they assault. The rest are acquaintances, friends, family members, partners, dates, coworkers, community members, or others in the victim’s sphere.

Perpetrators look like everyone else. There is no one profile. They can be married or single, educated or uneducated, rich or poor. According to studies, the following trends have been identified among those who commit sex offenses:

  • 96% are male
  • Half of the Perpetrators are 30 or older
  • Ages range across the board, with 16-19-year-olds at the highest risk of offending
  • Have antisocial tendencies or beliefs normalizing violence
  • Often abuse drugs or alcohol
  • May have been previous victims themselves

Meanwhile, sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, orientation, education, or background. However, women are disproportionately impacted, with around 1 in 6 American women experiencing completed or attempted rape at some point. Those at the highest risk of victimization include:

  • College-aged women
  • Native American women
  • LGBTQ+ individuals
  • People with disabilities
  • Prison inmates
  • Impoverished communities
  • Sex workers
  • Immigrants/undocumented people
  • Military members
  • People in abusive relationships

Bottom line – sexual assault is widespread, but together we can reduce stigma, increase education, and better support survivors. There is no “typical” story.

The Legal Perspective of Sexual Assault

Laws regarding sexual violence vary by state, but some overarching guidelines apply across the country.

Statute of Limitations – Time limits for reporting sexual assault depend on the state, offense, and circumstances. Many states have extended or eliminated statutes for rape. For instance, in California there is no time limit for felony sex crimes. However, misdemeanors like groping often have shorter limits of 1-3 years.

Sexual Assault vs. Rape – Legally, sexual assault refers to any unwanted sexual contact as discussed above. Rape specifically means penetration without consent. Sentencing guidelines are generally higher for rape compared to other sex crimes.

Consent – Most states have laws affirming that consent must be voluntary, conscious, and ongoing. Simply not fighting back does not equal consent. California laws state consent cannot legally be given if incapacitated by drugs/alcohol.

Custodial Sexual Misconduct – It is illegal for custodians such as police, prison guards, or court officers to engage in any sexual conduct with those in their custody.

Navigating the legal system can be challenging, but skilled sex crime attorneys well-versed in this complex area can guide you and advocate on your behalf.

Reporting Sexual Assault

Deciding whether to report is a deeply personal decision. There are a number of options available:

Law Enforcement – Reporting to police is necessary to initiate a criminal investigation. Kits will be collected, statements taken, and officers will determine if charges will be filed. Support services like victim advocates can guide you through the process.

University/Workplace – If the assault occurred at an institution, reporting through their established procedure can lead to internal disciplinary action. Title IX coordinators are available at most schools.

Confidential Counseling – Speaking confidentially with a therapist or counselor provides emotional support without initiating formal action. They can connect you to additional resources as desired.

Civil Lawsuit – Victims may pursue a civil case against the perpetrator for damages even if criminal charges were not filed or successful. Civil cases use the lower standard of “preponderance of evidence”.

The choice is yours. With the right help, justice and healing are possible. You do not have to walk this road alone.

Support for Survivors of Sexual Assault

Recovering from sexual trauma takes time, but support makes all the difference. Consider these options to help you move forward:

  • RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline provides free, confidential counseling 24/7. Call 800-656-HOPE to connect with an advocate anytime.
  • Local crisis centers offer services like individual counseling, support groups, emergency shelter, legal advocacy, and helplines.
  • Therapy with a trauma-informed counselor helps process emotions safely and rebuild self-worth.
  • Support groups let survivors share experiences in a judgement-free space and remind you you’re not alone.
  • Friends and family can provide much needed understanding and daily comfort. Let them know what you need.

The path is different for every survivor. Healing happens gradually, aided by support systems that empower you. This pain does not define your whole story. There is still joy ahead.

Seek Legal Help

Sexual assault is a grave issue that affects far too many individuals. By understanding its various forms and the legal implications, we can work towards a world where everyone feels safe and respected.If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, remember, you’re not alone. Reach out to us at The Nieves Law Firm in Sacramento. We’re here to help you navigate the legal process and seek the justice you deserve.