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What is the difference between sexual assault and rape?

What is the difference between sexual assault and rape?

The legal definitions of sexual assault and rape vary depending on state laws. Some states do not even use those terms in their penal codes to classify sex-related crimes, opting for labels such as sexual misconduct and sexual battery instead. In Virginia and some other states, however, sexual assault serves to define a broad set of sex-related crimes that include rape, among other crimes. In other words, a rape in Virginia is also a sexual assault, while a sexual assault in the state will not necessarily be classified as a rape.

According to Virginia law, rape is the act of engaging in sexual intercourse against someone’s will. This definition most conspicuously includes when someone engages in sex through physical force but it also includes pushing someone into sex through intimidation or threats. In addition, the definition of rape encompasses sex with someone through their mental incapacity or physical helplessness. Finally, rape includes any act of sex with a child under the age of 13, no matter their consent.

Sexual assault spans a range of acts that amount to a sexual attack on another person. Forcible sodomy, for instance, is closely related to rape, but it is separately defined by the state. Forcible sodomy means engaging in cunnilingus, fellatio, anilingus or anal intercourse against the will of someone, whether through force, intimidation or threat; through their mental incapacity or physical helplessness; or if the victim is younger than 13.

Similarly, object sexual penetration is a type of sexual assault involving penetrating the labia majora or anus of someone with an object against their will or causing them to penetrate themselves with an object. The same definition of force that applies to rape and sodomy applies to object sexual penetration.

Sexual battery is another form of sexual assault in Virginia. Sexual battery occurs when an individual sexually abuses another, by force, threat or intimidation, with the intent to sexually molest, arouse or gratify. The charge can be elevated to aggravated sexual battery in certain circumstances, such as when the act causes serious physical or mental injury to a victim or involves the use of a weapon.

Attempted rape, attempted forcible sodomy, attempted object sexual penetration and attempted sexual battery also fall into the category of sexual assault, as do crimes involving carnal knowledge of minors and carnal knowledge of inmates by correctional facility employees.

Punishments vary within the category of sexual assault, but frequently involve prison time. For instance, rape, forcible sodomy and object sexual penetration all carry maximum sentences of life in prison, depending on the circumstances. Aggravated sexual battery, on the other hand, has a maximum of 20 years in prison. Many sexual assault crimes are classified as felonies, while others, such as sexual abuse of a child between the ages of 13 and 15, are treated as misdemeanor offenses.

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