What Is First-Degree Sexual Assault?

No matter which act was committed against the victim, it is crucial to recognize that it is never the victim’s fault. It does not matter if the victim flirted or drank too much. Anything that happened without consent can be classified as sexual assault.

What is first-degree sexual assault?

Some states separate sexual assault crimes into degrees. First-degree sexual assault is deemed the most severe type of sexual assault, and states reserve the harshest punishment for it compared with second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree sexual assault crimes.

Most states that separate sexual assault crimes into degrees included rape as first-degree sexual assault. Sexual assault against children is also considered first-degree sexual assault, although many state legislative codes contain specific statutes for sexual crimes against children.

Remember, all states set their own laws for sexual assault. One state that separates sexual assault crimes into degrees in its criminal code is Alaska. First-degree sexual assault in Alaska is defined as rape (sexual penetration), attempted rape that resulted in an injury, or rape where the perpetrator held a certain status over the victim or where the victim could not give consent due to mental incapacity or being unaware of the sexual act.

In Hawaii, sexual assault in the first degree is reserved for rape done with strong compulsion, rape of a person under 14 years old, rape of a minor between 14 and 16 years old where the perpetrator was at least five years older, rape of a person who is mentally defective, or rape of someone who is incapacitated or physically helpless as a result of a substance which the perpetrator gave them.

Similarly, in Nebraska, sexual assault in the first degree is sexual penetration of a victim without consent (rape), sexual penetration where the victim is mentally or physically unable to resist or understand the nature of what they are doing, or rape of a victim between the ages of 12 and 16 where the perpetrator is at least 19 years old.

man assaulting a woman

What are the elements of sexual assault?

For a criminal case to be brought against an attacker, the prosecution must prove the elements of the sexual assault crime. While the elements of sexual assault will vary depending on state law, the essential elements include the following:

  1. The victim is forced to engage in some type of sexual activity.
  2. The victim does not give their consent.

Sexual Activity

The sexual activity you were forced to endure could have been sexual intercourse (penetration), sexual battery, touching of a sexual nature, or being forced to engage in sexual acts or perform sexual acts on your assailant. 

Know that this activity is a crime. It does not matter who you are. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. Age, gender, and sexual orientation do not matter. And it does not matter who your assailant is. They could be a stranger or someone you know, and they could be the same gender as you or a different gender.


Consent is one of the main issues surrounding sexual assault cases. Any sexual activity engaged in without your consent is a crime. An individual must knowingly and voluntarily give consent and have the capacity to make such a decision. If you did not consent to sexual activity with another person, you have been sexually assaulted.

Consent is not implied. Just because you did not say anything during the attack does not mean you gave consent. Just because you did not resist does not mean you gave consent. And just because you gave consent to sexual activity in the past does not mean that you gave consent for all other times in the future. 

If you were drunk, any decision you made was clouded by the alcohol. You cannot have given consent when you were unconscious. If you were passed out or sleeping, you could not give consent. If you were under the influence of drugs, you could not have given consent.

Consent must be affirmatively given. And even when it is given, you can revoke your consent at any time. If you initially consented to the sexual activity and changed your mind, you revoked your consent. Anything that happened after was without consent and, therefore, is a sexual assault.

What is the statute of limitations for sexual assault?

Statute of limitations is the legal terminology to describe the window of time after a sexual assault during which charges can be brought against the assailant, attacker, or rapist. State governments set their own statutes of limitations for various sex crimes. 

The statute of limitations begins on the date of the attack. Once the statute of limitations expires, you can no longer bring criminal charges against the attacker. The statute of limitations for sexual assault can be three years, five years, or ten years. However, some states do not have a statute of limitations for sexual assault cases. That means that prosecutors can press charges — and victims can bring a sexual assault claim — at any time.

Lastly, even if the statute of limitations has run out, some states allow the case to be reopened and charges brought against an attacker if newly discovered DNA evidence is found. 

Contact a lawyer to help you determine whether you can still seek justice for your attack.

What To Do if You Are a Victim of Sexual Assault 

If you have been the victim of sexual assault, call 911 for the police and immediate medical attention. If the situation is not an emergency and there is no threat of danger, you can call a crisis center. They can help you with many things, from reporting your sexual assault to the police to helping you find a safe place to stay.

It is essential that you see a medical professional as soon as possible. A doctor will treat any injuries you sustained during the sexual assault. Even if there are no apparent injuries, there may be internal bleeding or other injuries that are not obvious. You also want to ensure you get tested for any sexually transmitted infections your assailant may have had. 

Additionally, try to preserve any evidence of the sexual assault. Before you go to the police station or a hospital, do not shower or change clothes, even though that might be uncomfortable. Your doctor will also preserve any evidence of the sexual assault for use in a criminal trial if you decide to report the assault to the police.

Sexual assault victims face harmful mental and psychological effects in the aftermath of an attack. There are many support groups for survivors of sexual violence. Talk to your medical provider about therapy options and support programs.

And never forget, if you were the victim of a sexual assault, it was not your fault. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) for assistance.

man physically abusing a woman