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More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

What is Third-Degree Sexual Assault?

Third-degree sexual assault is a criminal classification that typically includes any other non-consensual sexual act outside of first and second degree sexual assault. Typically this criminal charge is for offenses that do not include bodily injury or sexual contact with minors although definitions vary by state.

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Key Takeaways

  • Third-degree sexual assault typically includes acts like non-consensual intercourse with an intoxicated person, sexual contact with someone under the perpetrator’s control, and incest
  • Legal definitions and penalties for third-degree sexual assault vary by state, with some states lacking specific designations for sexual assault degrees
  • If you believe you were a victim of sexual assault, you have rights and options including reporting to law enforcement, reporting bad actors to online platforms, and seeking mental health resources

What is Third-Degree Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a crime of sexual violence that victimizes both women and men. It happens when a person is forced to comply or threatened into complying with sexual activity. Sexual activity can refer to rape, attempted rape, sexual contact, incest, and unwanted touching of a sexual nature.

Sexual assault crimes include a variety of different sex crimes. Sexual assault is unwanted sexual activity (penetration or sexual contact) that happens without the victim’s consent. Types of sexual assault can include rape, attempted rape, incest, sodomy, unlawful sexual contact, sexual battery, and unlawful sexual touching. Many states separate sexual assault into different degree categories.

Sexual assault in the third degree can include having sex with a close relative (incest), having sex with someone who is mentally incapacitated, or having sexual contact by use of force or threat of the use of force. 

All state governments (and the federal government) establish their own criminal codes. Many states separate their crimes into the first, second, third, or fourth degree to designate the seriousness of the offense.

Sexual crimes in the first degree are the most serious offenses and carry the most severe punishments. The other degrees are deemed “less serious” and, therefore, carry penalties that are not as severe. 

However, know that the seriousness of a crime and severity of punishment assigned to each offense by state legislatures does not detract from the horrifying and unjustifiable torment you experienced during your sexual assault.

Examples of third-degree sexual assault may include the following:

  • The actor has sexual intercourse with the victim who is drunk or under the influence of drugs.
  • The actor has sexual contact with a victim with whom the actor has supervisory or disciplinary control.
  • The actor compels the victim to have sexual contact via force or threat of force.
  • The actor has sexual intercourse with a victim who is also a relative (incest).
  • The actor has sexual intercourse with a victim who is mentally incapacitated.

Note that these are examples from various states’ criminal codes. A sexual offense that is classified as a third-degree sexual assault in one state may be classified as a first-degree or second-degree sexual assault in another state.

Last Date Modified
May 17, 2024

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

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What are the Statute of Limitations for Third-Degree Sexual Assault?

The statute of limitations is the period of time in which a case can be brought against a person in court. In criminal law, it refers to the time period following a crime when the prosecution can file charges against an alleged perpetrator. After this time period has passed, charges may no longer be brought against the individual unless some exception applies.

Every state sets its own statute of limitations for the crimes in its code. And every crime has a specific statute of limitations.

For example, the West Virginia Supreme Court has held that there is no statute of limitations for third-degree sexual assault crimes. The Wyoming Supreme Court has also held the same for third-degree sexual assault crimes.

However, the statute of limitations in Rhode Island for third-degree sexual assault crimes is three years. The statute of limitations in Hawaii for third-degree sexual assault crimes is also three years. But in Hawaii, if the victim was under 18 years old when the crime occurred, the three years do not start until after the victim turns 18.

Third-Degree Sexual Assault Crimes and State Law Differences

States codify their laws differently, which means there is not a specific designation of third-degree sexual assault in every state. Many states don’t have a designation of “sexual assault” at all.

Instead, the specific sexual offenses and the circumstances surrounding the criminal sexual conduct that that fall under “sexual assault” in other states are charged as felonies and misdemeanors under a number of laws, including:

  • Sexual misconduct
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual battery
  • Unlawful sexual contact
  • Sexual contact without consent
  • Criminal sexual conduct
  • Sexual imposition
  • Sexual offense

Some states do not differentiate sexual assault in degrees. For example, Illinois law designates these sex crimes as criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual assault with no separation by degree.

Of the states that do divide their crimes into degrees of sexual assault, remember that a third-degree sexual assault in one state could be first-degree or second-degree sexual assault in another state.

States with a Designated Third-Degree Sexual Assault Charge

  • Alaska – Class C felony
  • Arkansas – Class C felony
  • Connecticut – Class C felony (Class B felony if the victim is under the age of 16
  • Hawaii – Class C felony
  • Nebraska – 2nd degree is Class IIA felony; 3rd degree is Class I misdemeanor
  • Rhode Island – Unclassified
  • West Virginia – Unclassified felony
  • Wisconsin – Class G felony
  • Wyoming – Unclassified felony

Note that Nebraska combines second-degree and third-degree sexual assault as: “Any person who subjects another person to sexual contact (a) without consent of the victim, or (b) who knew or should have known that the victim was physically or mentally incapable of resisting or appraising the nature of his or her conduct is guilty of sexual assault in either the second degree or third degree.”

The difference between the two is that a second-degree sexual assault has occurred if the perpetrator caused “serious personal injury to the victim,” whereas sexual assault that does not cause serious personal injury constitutes sexual assault in the third-degree.

What To Do if You Were a Victim of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a horrific experience for any victim. If you have experienced such an attack, know that you are not alone. We stand with you and will aid you in the aftermath.

The following are some steps to follow if you were involved in a sexual assault.

  • Call for help: If there is a danger present — your attacker is present, or you need medical attention — call 911 immediately. Your physical safety and health are of the utmost importance.
  • Visit a doctor: Getting medical attention after a sexual assault is imperative. On the one hand, a medical examination allows for evidence collection, such as a rape kit. On the other hand, even if you do not think you want to press charges, it is still a good idea to visit a doctor. There may have been internal bleeding or other injuries from the attack that are not clearly visible. You will also likely suffer from severe mental trauma from the ordeal, so your doctor is in the best position to refer you to a psychiatrist or a sexual assault survivor support group.
  • Contact a crisis center: If you are not in any danger, a good option is to contact a crisis center. These centers can help you pick up the pieces after a sexual assault. Crisis centers can help you find a place to stay or guide you on how to file a police report about the attack. They will also have information about community outreach programs that can help.
  • Report the attack: Reporting a sexual assault is challenging. You may feel partly responsible for what happened. You need to know that what happened is 100 percent NOT your fault. The fault lies with the attacker, not you. Never feel ashamed of what happened. You are the victim, and the law is here to protect you. Reporting the sexual assault will ensure the attacker can never hurt anyone else again and give you at least some sense of closure. If you are scared or nervous, take a trusted family member or friend with you when you go to the police station.

And you can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) 24/7 for additional help through this difficult time.

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