The Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse Charges

Maine Lawyers Katie Campbell and John Webb

Revised September 20, 2019 by John Webb and Katie Campbell



sexual assault

The Difference Between Sexual Assault and Rape Charges

If you have been charged with sex crime charges, you need to understand the allegations so your criminal law attorney can respond (on your behalf) accordingly. The first thing to do is not talk to any police investigator without legal representation by an experienced sex crimes attorney. Only those convicted will be placed on the registered sex offender list.

Maine Sex Offender Locator Map

While laws vary by state, sexual assault generally refers to a crime in which the offender subjects the victim to unwanted sexual touching of some kind (unwanted touching law). If you don’t know any criminal attorneys near me, then call our office and our three Maine lawyers can assist. If the charges are pending in northern Maine, out-of-state or are a Canadian crime, our attorneys in Maine can refer you to legal counsel in northern Maine or in other states.

Keep reading to understand more about the difference between rape and sexual assault or sexual abuse. Initially you must know that, the rape statute in Maine has been repealed and replaced with a crime denominated gross sexual assault.

The crime of sexual abuse in Maine is a separate crime that includes similar acts, but the victim is a child rather than an adult. This topic is addressed in another article within this web site dealing with crimes against adolescent offenders.

Sexual Assault in Maine

The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”

Under this definition, child molestation, sexual intercourse, incest, attempted rape, forcible sodomy, and fondling are all acts of assault when the recipient does not consent.

Assault of a sexual nature can be a violent or unexpected act. The law considers it to be traumatic in all cases. Sometimes, it is a single, life-threatening event or series of events.

Sexual assault is ANY unwanted sex act or behavior that is violent, threatening, forced, or coercive. It is ANY act for which the person did not give consent or could not give consent.

17-A §251. Definitions and general provisions

17-A §253. Gross sexual assault

17-A §254-A. Written notification not to pursue charges for sexual abuse of a minor

17-A §255-A. Unlawful sexual contact

17-A §257. Factors aiding in predicting high-risk sex offenders for sentencing purposes

17-A §260. Unlawful sexual touching

Maine DHHS link (Department of Health and Human Services)

Examples of Sexual Assault

Some examples include, but are not limited to, putting a penis, another part of the body, or object into someone’s mouth, vagina, or anus. The crime can also include forcing someone to perform or receive oral sex. The law defines oral sex, in this case, as putting a penis into someone’s mouth.

Other examples include forcing someone to masturbate or forcing them to watch someone else masturbate. Any unwanted sexual touching of private body parts is assault, under 17-A Section 260.

Sexual harassment, which is making inappropriate sexual comments to another person, also falls under assault as well as harassment. There are legal differences with sexual harassment vs sexual assault.

If someone exposes themselves, that is voyeurism, and it is also assault. So is forcing someone to watch a sex act or pornography.

Rape and Sexual Assault

The media often uses the terms rape and sexual assault interchangeably.

In recent sex news, all Americans have heard the stories of women who have come forth as part of the #MeToo movement. Everyone in America has now seen extensive coverage of the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Plus, the student athletes in the Olympics brought international attention to various forms of sexual misconduct by Dr. Larry Nassar, a professional with a medical license.

While the media’s use of the words as synonyms is unintentional, it is confusing. These two terms mean very different things. Rape is a specific act. Sexual assault can encompass a range of sexual, criminal acts.

Assault includes a range of acts from unwanted touching and kissing, to groping or forcing someone to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way. Thus, the answer to the question, “Is kissing sexual assault?” The answer is YES, it can be.

The crimes of rape and assault cross paths because gross sexual assault includes acts commonly known as being “rape.” Our firm has helped accused citizens from all walks of life from ex-priest, to student to former county sheriff’s police officer. A conviction for a sex crime can require the accused to place their name on the sex offender registry list.

Rape Defined in Maine as Gross Sexual Conduct

In 2012, the FBI revised the definition of rape.

It is the “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The revised law is now gender neutral. Anyone, male or female, can be a victim. The perpetrator does not have to be a stranger. The act does not have to be by physical force only.

The relationship, if any, between the victim and perpetrator does not matter. Nor does the amount, if any, of physical force.

A sexual act constitutes rape when there is a lack of consent. The perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance (“no”). He or she can overpower the victim’s physical resistance by holding the person down.

The perpetrator can threaten or use a weapon against a person. Any of these things can remove the person’s ability to truly consent. This qualifies rape as an act of sexual assault.

Sexual Violence As It Relates to Sexual Abuse and Assault

Behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence” to describe sexual abuse and assault.

This term is far broader than either sexual abuse or assault. It includes acts that the laws don’t identify as criminal, but that (nonetheless) are traumatic and harmful.

Sexual violence includes making false promises, using insistent pressure, and making abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce the victim into a sex act.

It can include nonphysical acts like catcalls and whistles. Such acts make the victim, most of the time women, feel objectified and even victimized.

Important to note, it also includes non-consensual sharing of explicit electronic images, such as exposed genitals. Finally, it includes secretly viewing others naked or during sex.

What to Do If You Are Facing Sex Offense Charges in Southern Maine

Maine Sex Charges Lawyer

Call our law office to speak to any of our three Maine sex crimes lawyers. John Webb, Katie Campbell and Vincent LoConte will assist you in getting accurate answers to all your questions. From challenging an arrest warrant to fighting a flawed indictment, our criminal defense lawyers are among the very few with extensive experience on state laws pertaining to sexual offenses.

In the parts of the Pine Tree State from Augusta Maine and south of there, each of our criminal lawyers near me represents clients needing assistance with sex related criminal charges. Not all law firms handle these difficult and high-risk criminal trials, but our experienced legal team is ready to fight for you.

Portland ME Lawyers Katie Campbell, John Webb, and Vincent LoConte

Dial 207-283-6400 to contact our Saco Maine and Portland Maine Criminal Attorneys Near Me.

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