What Is Sexual Battery?

Sexual battery is unwanted sexual contact without the victim’s consent. It is a misdemeanor or felony in most states. Reporting sexual battery can be scary and intimidating. You may be afraid that people won’t believe you, or perhaps you think you should have done more to prevent the attack. But being the victim of sexual battery is never your fault, and there are steps you can take to get justice. You are not alone.

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To succeed in a sexual battery claim, you need to prove that the perpetrator touched you in a sexual manner and that you did not consent to this action. For example, if you were drugged, then you could not make an informed decision to consent. Or if you can prove you were forced into compliance, this also negates consent.

Victims of sexual battery need to seek assistance as soon as possible. Helping Survivors has compiled some information below to educate you about the crime and give an overview of what to do if you have experienced sexual battery.

Legal Definition of Sexual Battery

The legal definition of sexual battery differs according to state law, but generally, it means sexual contact without the victim’s consent.

If you have experienced sexual battery, you are a victim of sexual violence. Sexual battery may be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on how each state treats the crime in its criminal code. Felonies carry harsher penalties and more prison time than misdemeanors.

What is sexual contact?

Sexual contact involves touching of a sexual nature. This usually means touching the victim’s intimate parts or making the victim touch the perpetrator’s. It usually does not include sodomy or penetration, the latter of which is rape. These are separate crimes.

This sexual contact can include touching with or without clothes, and the motive must typically be sexual pleasure or gratification. The existence of either of these components depends on the state.

Sexual battery graphic

What is consent?

Consent is an essential element of not just sexual battery but other crimes of sexual violence. Every state has a definition of consent. Generally, consent must be freely and affirmatively given by someone who has the capacity to provide consent.

Note these rules on consent:

  • Minors: State laws mandate that minors cannot legally consent to sexual activity as they are too young to understand and fully comprehend the situation. Every state sets the age of consent. Sometimes it’s 16 years old, while others may set the age of consent at 17 or 18.
  • Incapacitated: If a victim is incapacitated, they cannot consent because their judgment is impaired. They may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or unconscious. Victims in this physical state cannot consent because they cannot make an informed decision while under the influence. And, of course, they cannot make an informed decision if they are unconscious.
  • Mental health disorders: Victims with certain mental health disorders are deemed unable to consent to sexual activity and are protected under state law.
  • Force: Sexual battery can involve force or the threat of force. The perpetrator can use force or the threat of force to coerce the victim into sexual acts with the perpetrator. The following may be considered types of force:
    • The perpetrator restrains the victim with their body or restraints.
    • The perpetrator uses weapons to coerce the victim into compliance.
    • The perpetrator uses psychological coercion to make the victim submit.

What are aggravating circumstances?

Aggravating circumstances increase a crime’s severity. The following are considered aggravating factors for the crime of sexual battery:

  • The victim was a minor.
  • The victim had mental health issues.
  • The victim was elderly.
  • The victim was physically disabled.
  • The perpetrator used a weapon, such as a gun or a knife, to force the victim’s compliance to engage in sexual acts.
  • The perpetrator inflicted bodily harm on the victim.
  • The perpetrator discharged a firearm during the sexual battery incident.
  • The perpetrator drugged the victim.
  • The perpetrator threatened the victim with violence.
  • The perpetrator was aided by another person to force, coerce, or hold down the victim.

Aggravating circumstances usually make the penalty for sexual battery harsher.

Examples of Sexual Battery

Here are some examples of sexual battery.

Example 1

Bob and Rita work together. One day Bob steps closer to Rita as she is working, and she tells him to step away from her. Instead of leaving, he fondles her breasts.

Bob has committed sexual battery against Rita. He sexually touched her despite her orders to stay away.

Example 2

John and Jane have been going out for a few weeks. They have been going to John’s apartment for the last few dates, where they consensually engaged in sexual acts. On their next date, Jane does not want to be touched or engage in any sexual acts. John tells her she consented before and ignores her protests.

Remember, Jane’s prior consent to sexual relations does not constitute future consent. John has committed sexual battery against Jane because she did not consent.

Example 3

Jack and Ned are on a date. Ned slips drugs into Jack’s drink. Jack gets sick, and Ned says he will take him home. Jack passes out in the car. Before dropping Jack off, Ned sexually touches Jack in the parking lot.

Ned has committed sexual battery against Jack. Jack was unconscious, so he could not consent to any act. Depending on the state, the use of drugs can be viewed as an aggravating factor of sexual battery, mandating a harsher punishment.

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What is the difference between sexual assault and sexual battery?

Sexual assault is a collective term used to describe specific acts of sexual violence. This includes rape (penetration), attempted rape, and sexual battery. Sexual battery, on the other hand, is a specific crime of unlawful sexual contact without the victim’s consent.

Some states use the term “sexual assault” for all crimes of sexual violence. Other states separate the crimes into “rape,” “sexual battery,” and “sexual assault”. Some states use the terms “sexual abuse,” “criminal sexual conduct,” or “unlawful sexual conduct” to refer to crimes of sexual battery.

However, note that “sexual abuse” most often refers to sex crimes against minors.

For example, Arkansas separates sexual violence charges with the following designations (this list does not include every Arkansas sex crime):

The criminal acts that commonly fall under the definition of sexual battery are covered under Arkansas’s second-degree sexual assault.

Similarly, Rhode Island’s charge of second-degree sexual assault applies to the act of “engag[ing] in sexual contact” that typically constitutes sexual battery law, whereas first-degree sexual assault refers to the charge against an assailant who “engages in sexual penetration.”
In Colorado, the elements of rape are listed under the crime of sexual assault, and the elements of sexual battery are under the crime of unlawful sexual conduct.

In West Virginia, there are varying degrees of sexual assault (which concerns the elements of rape, including “sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion”) and different degrees of sexual abuse, which involve the “sexual contact” that constitutes sexual battery.

Sexual Battery Charges and Punishments

State prosecutors will bring charges of alleged sexual battery against offenders in criminal court. There are varying degrees of crimes. You may see a charge of sexual battery in the first or second degree — or even in the third or fourth degree — depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense.

A first-degree felony is a more serious offense than a second- or third-degree felony and will carry a harsher sentence if the perpetrator is convicted.

The punishment (prison time or a fine) for sexual battery cases depends on the state.

How To Report Sexual Battery

Different states have varying procedures for reporting sexual battery. If a child is involved, reporting is usually mandatory.

No matter the state, the first step in reporting sexual battery is to call 911, go to the police station to file a report, or go to the nearest medical center. Contact someone you trust to help and, perhaps, accompany you so that you feel more comfortable.

You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to speak with a trained professional who can walk you through the next steps.