Sexual Assault: Laws & Definition

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  • 0:05 What is Sexual Assault?
  • 1:41 VA Law Regarding Rape
  • 2:09 VA Law Regarding…
  • 2:43 VA Law Regarding…
  • 3:29 VA Law Regarding…
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dawn Young

Dawn has a Juris Doctorate and experience teaching Government and Political Science classes.

In this lesson, let's learn what sexual assault is and the laws that deal with it. Specifically, the laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia will be explored in this lesson since they are representative of most states' laws.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent. Types of sexual assault include: attempted rape, rape, sodomy, digital or object penetration, and sexual battery. Consent is the act of giving permission. This means that for any sexual contact to be considered consensual, both parties must be physically and mentally capable of giving permission to a sexual partner.

Here is an example of sexual contact without consent: In 1987, Dr. William Dishuk pled guilty to sexually assaulting at least five women in his office. He would bring the women into his office for the purpose of performing a medical procedure. He would give them anesthesia, and then, while they were asleep, he would sexually assault them or take nude pictures of them. The women would wake up and leave, not knowing what happened to them. They did not know they had been assaulted, and yet Dr. Dishuk was still guilty of sexual assault, because none of the women had given consent.

Seems simple enough, right? And yet, we hear about sexual assault on the news all the time. We hear about sexual assault in school and work awareness programs. We hear statistics such as this: every 107 seconds a person is sexually assaulted in America. Sexual assault is alarmingly common in the United States, and each person should be aware of the laws in his or her state that protect against it. Each state is different, but the laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia serve as a good example of what state laws look like. Check your state's specific laws to see if there are differences.

VA Law Regarding Rape

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. In Virginia, a person is guilty of rape if he or she has sex with another person and:

  • The sex is against the victim's will and is the result of the use of force, threat, or intimidation
  • The victim is physically helpless when the act occurs
  • The victim's mental state renders him or her unable to give consent
  • The victim is a child 12 and under

VA Law Regarding Forcible Sodomy

Virginia differentiates between rape, which can only be charged when a penis penetrates, at minimum, the vulva, and other types of sexual assault, such as forced oral or anal sex. A person is guilty of forcible sodomy if he or she:

  • Engages in oral sex with the penis, vulva, or anus and/or has anal intercourse with the victim against the victim's will using force, threat, or intimidation
  • The victim is physically helpless when the act occurs
  • The victim's mental state renders him or her unable to give consent
  • The victim is a child 12 and under

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