• What is sexual assault?

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, a person is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds in the United States.

A sexual assault (also known as “sexual abuse” or “sexual violence”) is when someone forces or coerces another person to engage in non-consensual sexual contact. Michigan law defines “sexual contact” as intentional touching of the victim’s or perpetrator’s intimate parts or the clothing covering the area of the intimate parts for sexual arousal or gratification, for a sexual purpose, or in a sexual manner.

Survivors of sexual violence are men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds. People can be sexually assaulted by anyone, including a spouse or romantic partner, stranger, date, family member, doctor, coach, friend, or acquaintance. Sexual assault is not determined by a victim’s relationship to the assailant; the critical factor defining sexual assault is lack of consent.

Non-consensual sexual contact comes in two forms: individuals who do not consent and individuals who cannot consent. Sexual contact with someone who does not consent includes:

  • Rape
  • Sexual coercion
  • Fondling

Individuals who legally cannot consent to sexual contact are:

  • Minors under the legal age of consent
  • Individuals with a mental disability
  • Intoxicated persons
  • Unresponsive people (sleeping or unconscious)

A person must always have consent before legally having sexual contact with another person. Once a person withdraws consent, any previous consent is no longer valid. Prior consensual encounters do not constitute present consent for the same or similar acts. Just because a person consented to sexual contact yesterday does not mean they consent to it today. Finally, a person can limit consent. For example, agreeing to one type of sexual activity does not mean they have agreed to participate in other sexual conduct beyond the consented activity.

In Michigan, “criminal sexual conduct” is the term used for sexual assault. There are four degrees of wrongdoing under the state’s Criminal Sexual Conduct Act. First– and third-degree charges involve penetration by force or coercion, while second- and fourth-degree charges involve different kinds of sexual contact.

First, second, and third-degree criminal sexual conduct are felony charges, while fourth-degree conduct is a misdemeanor. The possible penalties under each degree of criminal sexual conduct are:

  • First degree: 25 years to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.
  • Second degree: Up to 15 years imprisonment and possible lifetime electronic monitoring.
  • Third degree: Up to 15 years imprisonment.
  • Fourth degree: Up to 2 years imprisonment, fines up to $500, or both.

It is important to note that a survivor of sexual violence can pursue both criminal charges and a civil action. In a civil action, the survivor can seek monetary damages from the perpetrator and potentially others be responsible for the perpetrator’s acts, such as an employer or supervisor. Survivors of sexual violence should report incidents of sexual assault to local law enforcement, who will work with state prosecutors to determine whether it is possible to charge the accused perpetrator with a crime and pursue a criminal case.

Because the law requires many claims to be brought within a certain period after the occurrence (known as the “statute of limitations”), waiting too long to report sexual violence can make it impossible for the state to pursue criminal charges or for a survivor to pursue a civil case. The statute of limitations varies depending on the alleged conduct, the age of the survivor, and other factors. If you have survived a sexual assault and are concerned or confused about your options, consult with an attorney immediately.

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