Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?

What is Fourth-Degree Sexual Assault?

Understanding the legal definition of fourth-degree sexual assault in your state can help you label your experience, understand the statute of limitations, and know the potential criminal court outcomes.

Key Takeaways

  • Each state has different criminal legal definitions for sexual assault, typically between first and fourth-degree although not every state follows the same parameters 
  • Fourth degree sexual assault is typically the lowest level criminal charge for sexual assault. The state’s idea of severity does not mean that a fourth-degree sexual assault case is not severe. 
  • If you believe you have experienced sexual assault, you have legal rights and options including reporting to law enforcement, reporting to online platforms, and/or potentially filing a civil lawsuit

What is Sexual Assault?

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. 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 regardless of their gender. However, approximately 92% of perpetrators are male. Sexual assault is labeled differently in different states. Some states choose to separate sexual assault into various degree categories. Fourth-degree sexual assault typically refers to nonconsensual sexual contact that is not covered by the first, second, or third degree offenses.

There are many different types of sexual assault. The following are crimes considered to fall under the umbrella of “sexual assault” crimes:

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

Non-consensual sexual activity can refer to penetration by a person or object, sexual contact, or sexual 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).

Last Date Modified
March 18, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

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.

What is Fourth-Degree Sexual Assault?

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

  • First degree
  • Second degree
  • Third degree
  • Fourth degree

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.

Examples of fourth-degree sexual assaults include:

  • Perpetrator has sexual contact with the victim without consent.
  • Perpetrator has sexual contact with a victim for whom the perpetrator has supervisory or disciplinary authority.
  • Perpetrator has sexual contact with a helpless victim.
  • Perpetrator exposes their genitals to a victim.

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 are the Statute of Limitations for Fourth-Degree Sexual Assault?

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 have been the victim of a sexual assault, know that you are not alone and what happened to you was not your fault. You were violated, and the fault falls entirely on the person that sexually assaulted you.

These are some steps you may want to take after a sexual assault:


Get medical care: If you were sexually assaulted recently, it is highly recommended to see a doctor soon after an assault, even if there are no visible injuries. Your doctor can provide treatment for any injuries and check for other health problems related to the assault, including testing for sexually transmitted diseases. You can also call a sexual assault hotline to be connected with an advocate who can help you find a nearby medical facility.


Report the sexual assault: The choice to report the sexual assault is yours and yours alone. If you do choose to report, know that there are laws in place to protect you. You can report the assault to the police over the phone or in-person by visiting a station. You can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE to be connected with an advocate who can help walk you through the reporting process.


Seek long-term support: Being the victim of a sexual assault is a deeply traumatizing experience. This is why there are crisis centers and hotlines dedicated to helping survivors get the resources and support they need to move forward. hotlines, like the National Sexual Assault Hotline can help you find local support groups or counseling services that can assist with your healing journey in the long term.

Regardless of when the sexual assault took place, know there are resources available to you that can provide free, confidential help. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat with an advocate online at rainn.org.

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