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What is the Difference Between Rape and Sexual Assault?

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The state of Washington prosecutes all types of sex crimes in a harsh manner, including sexual assault and rape charges. However, many people do not understand the difference — if one exists — between these two types of crimes. Are rape and sexual assault the same charge, or do they operate under two separate definitions?

If you are facing charges for sexual assault or rape, it is imperative to understand the difference between each type of crime. By understanding what the prosecution is accusing you of, you can begin to prepare your defense for the courtroom alongside your attorney.

What is Sexual Assault?

When we hear the term sexual assault, we tend to think of it as interchangeable with rape. In fact, sexual assault is a term that we can use to describe multiple types of sex offenses, including inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, and inappropriate phone calls or online messages.

Sexual assault can describe any type of non-consensual sexual contact, whether it involves a forced sex act or unwanted sexual attention. Consent to sexual activity must be free and informed — you cannot obtain consent through force, coercion, or with someone who legally cannot give consent, such as someone who is asleep, heavily intoxicated, disabled and unable to understand the activity, or underage.

When you are facing charges for a sex crime, the state will convict you of the specific sexual assault act that the prosecutors allege that you committed. While rape is a type of sexual assault, not all instances of sexual assault involve rape. Instead of facing a felony charge for sexual assault, you will face a conviction for rape.

Definition of Rape

Legal definitions of rape vary from state to state. In Washington, rape involves forcible sexual intercourse without the consent of the victim. The courts recognize three separate degrees of rape charges involving adult victims over the age of consent.

  • Third-degree rape charges involve engaging in forcible sexual intercourse where the perpetrator threatens to harm the victim’s property and the victim expresses a lack of consent through words or actions.
  • Second-degree rape involves forcible sexual intercourse where the victim cannot give consent because he or she is physically helpless, developmentally disabled, or mentally incapacitated.
  • First-degree rape involves forcible sexual intercourse where the perpetrator threatens the victim with a weapon, inflicts serious injury on the victim, kidnaps the victim, or enters the victim’s home or car to commit the crime.

In addition, Washington recognizes a fourth type of rape charge: indecent liberties. This crime involves engaging in forcible sexual contact, other than intercourse, without the consent of the victim. The victim is unable to give consent because he or she suffers from a developmental disability, is physically helpless, or is mentally incapacitated.

Potential Penalties for Rape Convictions in Washington State

Penalties for rape can be severe in Washington. First and second-degree rape charges are Class A felonies punishable by up to life in prison and fines up to $50,000. Third-degree rape is a Class C felony, and you could face up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Indecent liberties convictions are also subject to Class A felony penalties.

Facing a conviction for any type of sex crime, including rape and other forms of sexual assault, can be daunting. You can face jail time and high fines, experience damage to your relationships and reputation, and have difficulty finding a place to live or work. Contacting an attorney who will take the time to listen to your side of the story and build a compelling defense in your favor is crucial during these difficult times.

If you have not hired an attorney for your sexual assault case, contact a Tacoma sex crimes lawyer who specializes in these offenses as soon as possible. Your attorney can provide a number of benefits for your case, from access to evidence labs to holding a wealth of experience representing clients in the courtroom.

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