What Is Fourth-Degree Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a serious crime of sexual violence that happens when a victim is forced to engage in some type of sexual activity without their consent.

Anyone can be sexually assaulted — it does not have to be a male perpetrator and a female victim. The genders of the victim and perpetrator do not matter.

Sexual assault is labeled differently in different states. Some states choose to separate sexual assault into various degree categories. Fourth-degree sexual assault can include sexual contact between victims and perpetrators in positions of authority or control.

What is sexual assault?

man touching women's lap

Sexual assault is an all-encompassing term used for various crimes of sexual violence. The central aspect of sexual assault is that sexual activity takes place without the victim’s consent. There are many different types of sexual assault. The following are crimes considered to fall under the umbrella of “sexual assault” crimes:

  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Sodomy
  • Incest
  • Unwelcome sexual touching or contact
  • Sexual battery

To prove sexual assault, the prosecution generally must prove the sexual act took place and that the victim did not consent.

Sexual activity can refer to sexual penetration, sexual intercourse, or sexual contact or touching. The perpetrator can be a man or a woman, as can the victim. The perpetrator and the victim can be the same sex or the opposite sex.

Consent is an affirmative and informed agreement that is voluntarily given and involves a verbal affirmation (“yes”). The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples of lack of consent. If any of these situations describe what happened during your sexual assault, then you did not consent to the sexual activity.

  • You were intoxicated by alcohol.
  • You were under the influence of drugs.
  • You were a minor at the time of the sexual assault and, as such, deemed too young to give full and informed consent.
  • Your attacker took previous acceptance of sexual activity as acceptance of the current sexual activity.
  • Your attacker continued to proceed with the sexual activity after you revoked your consent.
  • Your attacker threatened you or a third party to get you to give in to the sexual activity.
  • Your attacker physically forced you into sexual activity.

Remember, just because you did not object verbally or physically does not mean you consented to the activity. Freezing and silence are common reactions to the trauma of a sexual assault. These responses do not qualify as consent. Consent must be given verbally with an affirmative “yes” (or its clear equivalent).

man touching women's lap

Defining Sexual Assault in the Fourth Degree

Some states separate their sexual assault crimes into the following degrees:

These degrees represent variations in the circumstances surrounding the crime. A first-degree sexual assault crime is considered more severe than a third-degree or fourth-degree sexual assault. Therefore, the punishment level is higher in a first-degree sexual assault case.

Know that the state’s idea of severity does not mean that a fourth-degree sexual assault case is not severe. No matter what degree the state legislature assigns a sex crime, the crime itself is atrocious and reprehensible. You are the victim, and we are here to help you get justice.

Examples of fourth-degree sexual assaults include:

Although this does not pertain to your case, some states also categorize sexual contact with a dead body or an animal as fourth-degree sexual assault.

Know that these are just examples of what constitutes fourth-degree sexual assault in some states. What may be fourth-degree sexual assault in one state may be third-degree or second-degree sexual assault in another state.

Differences in Fourth-Degree Sexual Assault by State

Not all states divide their sexual assault crimes into degrees. For example, Illinois separates some of its sex crimes into criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. Kentucky has sex crimes of rape in various degrees, sexual abuse in various degrees, and sexual misconduct.

Alternatively, both Rhode Island and Nebraska label their sex crimes as sexual assault. However, they only have first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree sexual assault crimes.

Alaska’s fourth-degree sexual assault crime classification covers actors who have sexual contact with victims whom they have supervisory, disciplinary, or other authority over. For example, an actor who works in a correctional facility and has sexual contact with a victim in the custody of that facility would be guilty of sexual assault in the fourth degree.

Connecticut’s fourth-degree sexual assault crime covers actors who have sexual contact with a physically helpless victim or a victim under 18 years old for whom the actor is the guardian. Hawaii’s fourth-degree sexual assault crime covers an actor who exposes their genitals to a victim or trespasses on another’s property to achieve sexual gratification by secretly watching the victim.

What is the statute of limitations?

A statute of limitations is a legal doctrine that sets a time limit for a case to be brought into the court system. The statute of limitations in the criminal justice system is the period of time allocated for the prosecutor to file criminal charges against an alleged perpetrator. Once this time expires, criminal charges can no longer be brought in court.

Every state sets the statute of limitations for the crimes in its criminal code. For example, Wisconsin sets its statute of limitations for fourth-degree sexual assault at three years from the date of the attack. In Arkansas, the statute of limitations for fourth-degree sexual assault can be either one or three years, depending on the nature of the attack.


Getting Help After a Sexual Assault

If you were the victim of sexual assault, know that what happened was not your fault. If you did not consent to the sexual activity, you were violated. You are the victim, and nobody blames you for anything. The fault is on your attacker only.

Follow these steps after a sexual assault:

  1. Get emergency help: You may have been injured during the attack. Even if you do not feel pain, there may be internal bleeding, or your attacker may have had a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is imperative that you receive medical attention. Further, you will want to be examined if you decide to report the crime. Evidence from the attacker might be collected and later used at trial, such as DNA from your assailant. Also, your attacker might still be a danger to you, even after the attack, so call 911 after a sexual assault.
  2. Report the sexual assault: You may be hesitant to report the sexual assault. Know that laws are in place to protect you. Reporting the crime will take a dangerous person off the streets and ensure your attacker can never make anyone else a victim.
  3. Contact a crisis center or helpline: Being the victim of a sexual assault is horrifying. You may not know how to pick up the pieces of your life. That is why it is always a good idea to reach out to a crisis center or helpline. They can help you file a police report and direct you to community resources. Your community probably has many outreach groups for sexual assault survivors, and a crisis center/helpline may also be able to help you find a therapist if you need one.

You can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673). Don’t face the aftermath of sexual assault alone.