Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Battery

Sexual assault and sexual battery have varying definitions depending on the jurisdiction. Regardless, both terms refer to sexual abuse where a victim does not provide consent. They may also include force or violence and may or may not involve penetration. To seek help or legal assistance, you can consult organizations and government agencies that provide services and resources to assist victims with their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
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Survivor Advocate

Key Takeaways

  • The definitions of sexual assault and sexual battery vary across jurisdictions, but both generally involve sexual contact without consent and can include force or violence.
  • At the federal level, sexual battery is defined as “aggravated sexual abuse,” which requires force or threats, while sexual assault is defined as “sexual abuse,” which involves threatening another person to commit sex acts.
  • The labeling and distinction of of sexual assault versus sexual battery are typically only relevant for criminal proceedings. Survivors of sexual assault may choose to label what happened to them as either of these terms based on their own thoughts and feelings.

The definitions of sexual assault and sexual battery may vary across different jurisdictions both in the United States and internationally. Regardless, both terms refer to sexual abuse where a victim does not provide consent. Both offenses may also include force or violence and may or may not involve penetration.

Victims of sexual violence and their loved ones often find themselves asking, “What’s the difference between sexual assault and sexual battery?” If you’re also asking this question, it’s no surprise that you may be confused as the terms are often used interchangeably.

In general, both types of offenses involve sexual contact with someone who is not a willing participant or is unable under the law to provide consent. Sexual assault and sexual battery create fear and leave victims with damaging consequences, often for the rest of their lives.

Sexual battery typically refers to sex crimes involving a type of abuse or threat of harm, such as the perpetrator using a gun to threaten the victim into compliance. Sexual assault is often a more general term. It often encompasses all types of sex crimes, including sexual battery.

We discuss the similarities and differences between these two terms, including how they differ by location, below.

Federal Definition of Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Battery

Understanding the differences between sexual assault and sexual battery requires looking at specific laws. Federal law, which applies in every state, does not use the term sexual battery as the name of this specific type of offense — instead, at this level, battery is defined as “aggravated sexual abuse”, and sexual assault is “sexual abuse”.

The United States’ criminal code states that aggravated sexual abuse requires force or threats that make the victim fear for their well-being. It also applies to situations where the perpetrator drugs or otherwise incapacitates the victim before violating them.

Federal law defines sexual abuse as threatening another person to commit sex acts, preventing the person from objecting, or coercing the person to comply.

The punishments for both crimes “shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for any term of years or life, or both.” And if the victim “has not attained the age of 12 years, or [the perpetrator] knowingly engages in a sexual act under the circumstances described in subsections (a) and (b) with another person who has attained the age of 12 years but has not attained the age of 16 years (and is at least 4 years younger than the person so engaging), or attempts to do so, [the perpetrator] shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not less than 30 years or for life.”

Similarities Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Battery

The two criminal charges of sexual assault and sexual battery are similar because both involve sexual contact that occurs without the victim’s consent. The perpetrator may use threats to get the victim to comply in both situations as well.

Differences Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Battery

The main difference between the two criminal acts at the federal level has to do with the use of force. Aggravated sexual abuse has an element of force or threat of force, whereas sexual abuse only denotes a threat of harm with no mention of a force requirement.

If you are not sure where to turn, RAINN can help.

Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk confidentially with a trained professional from RAINN.

They can put you in touch with local resources and organizations that can help in your healing journey.

Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Battery Across States

States take a varied approach to classifying sex crimes. Some use the terms sexual battery and sexual assault interchangeably, while others classify and punish them separately. Still, all states have criminal charges that encompass these types of acts.

If you want to know more about the laws in your state concerning sexual battery and assault, you can search online using the terms and the name of your state. You can also contact an attorney or law enforcement. They should be able to direct you to the correct resources for finding answers.

Because every state varies significantly in how they classify and label sexual crimes, it can help to look at a couple of states as examples.

Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Battery in Virginia

Virginia Code Title 18.2 Chapter 4 Article 7, titled Criminal Sexual Assault, outlines all sexual assault offenses, which include sexual battery (§ 18.2-67.4) and aggravated sexual battery (§ 18.2-67.3). These crimes require a victim who did not or was unable to give consent. This law encompasses:

  • Rape
  • Child sexual abuse
  • A person in a position of authority having intercourse with a subordinate
  • Forced sodomy
  • Object penetration

The law confines sexual abuse to touching and does not require penetration.

In Virginia, in order for the crime to be considered aggravated sexual battery, a few conditions are required. The victim had to be a child under the age of 13 or, in situations where the abuser is a parent or in a parental role, a child under the age of 18. It also applies in situations where a professional abuses their position to sexually assault a victim.

Aggravated sexual battery is a felony, whereas sexual battery is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Attempted rape, forcible sodomy, or inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, on the other hand, is punishable as a Class 4 felony.

Depending on whether the crime is classified as a felony or misdemeanor — as well as the designated class for each — the punishments for all criminal sexual assault convictions as defined in Article 7 include confinement in a state correctional facility for anywhere from one year to life.

Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Battery in Ohio

The Ohio Revised Code does not use the term “sexual assault” and instead uses the designation of “rape” to describe specific sex offenses in Section 2907.02 that are equivalent to sexual assault in many states. Ohio’s definition of rape — a felony of the first degree — requires forcing penetration on another person. It can involve restraining or otherwise rendering the victim unable to stop the act. It may involve threats or coercion.

Ohio defines sexual battery as knowingly initiating sexual contact when the abuser knows the other person cannot or will not resist due to coercion, mental incapacity, impairment, mistaken identity, or unconsciousness. The statute also covers a parent or parental figure abusing a child or a person in an authoritative position molesting a subordinate.

According to Section 2907.03, “Except as otherwise provided in this division, sexual battery is a felony of the third degree. If the other person is less than thirteen years of age, sexual battery is a felony of the second degree.”

To avoid confusion, note that the distinguishing factors between sexual battery and sexual assault in Ohio are the type of act and the victim’s age or relationship to the offender. Battery requires a victim who cannot consent, but can be any type of carnal contact, whereas assault or rape always involves penetration or a victim of a certain age.

Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Battery Penalties

The penalties for sexual battery and assault can vary based on multiple factors, including:

  • Jurisdiction
  • Previous convictions
  • Victim’s age
  • Offender’s relationship with the victim
  • Exact criminal charge

It is important to note that there are no standard penalties. Just as the definitions of the crimes vary, so do the ways a court will punish someone convicted of them. With that in mind, there are some common ways a judge may sentence an offender who is found guilty.

Many crimes at the state level require the perpetrator to register on a sexual offender list. Some will be sentenced to minor jail time, while others will get a longer prison sentence. Most will include fines and court costs. Some may also include probation, community service, or completion of counseling.

Unfortunately, it is hard to predict what the outcome will be as sentencing is depending on a variety of factors, including whether the person is identified as a “first time offender” and the judge in the case.

Under federal law, both crimes could carry a life sentence, depending on the severity of the crime. Situations involving minors typically have the most severe penalties.

Severe sex offenses are often subject to mandatory minimum sentences at the federal level. In this case, the judge must sentence the offender to a minimum amount of time in prison.

The statute of limitations, which is the time limit that victims have to report the crime and seek legal repercussions, varies significantly among the states. Many states allow those who were victimized as minors to come forward years — or even decades — later. Increasingly, states are passing laws like New York’s Adult Survivors Act to help victims of childhood sexual abuse find healing and perpetrators to face accountability.

Moving Forward After Experiencing Sexual Battery or Assault

Sexual violence of any type may leave you feeling as if you are somehow at fault But it’s vital to understand that you were not at fault. Letting go of guilt or shame is essential to moving forward and seeking help.

Know that you are not alone. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network states that a sexual assault occurs to someone in the United States once every 68 seconds. It can be tough to seek help, but you don’t have to endure this trauma alone.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s Sexual Assault Hotline is always open. You can call 1-800-656-4673 anytime or use the organization’s online chat feature, which is available in English or Spanish.

You may also seek care through a rape crisis center or sexual assault program. These organizations work with trained professionals who can act as your advocate, provide counseling, and help you with your next steps. All services offered through sexual abuse organizations remain confidential.

If you believe you are in immediate danger, contact 911, or report the assault to local law enforcement. For legal assistance, find an attorney who can act as a professional advocate as you navigate the legal system.

Victims of sexual violence can get support from nonprofits, government programs, and private organizations that offer a variety of resources. If you or a loved one has faced sexual battery or sexual assault, there is plenty of support to assist victims in moving forward.

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