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An Overview Of The Different Degrees Of Sexual Assault

degrees of sexual assault

Sexual assault is a widespread epidemic that affects people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations. While most people have a general understanding of what behaviors might constitute sexual assault, the California Legal Team want to raise awareness about the different degrees of sexual assault and the various factors required to prosecute each act.

First Degree Sexual Assault

First degree sexual, sometimes known as aggravated sexual assault, is the most heavily punishable form of criminal sexual conduct. Although the period of time a perpetrator spends in jail is determined by the judge, it is possible for someone accused of aggravated sexual assault to spend the rest of his or her life incarcerated. The requirements needed for a conviction of first degree sexual assault include:

  1. Sexual penetration (see definition below), and
  2. One of the following situations:
    • The victim is under the age of 13
    • The victim ranges in age from 13-18, and one of the following:
      • A member of the same household as the perpetrator
      • A relative of the perpetrator
      • The perpetrator is in a position of authority over the victim
    • The perpetrator is aided by another person or assailant, and one of the following:
      • The victim is incapacitated (see definitions below)
      • The perpetrator uses some form of force or coercion to assault the victim
  3. The perpetrator is armed with a weapon
  4. The victim is injured (including physical injury, psychological anguish, transferal of disease, disfigurement and sometimes pregnancy)
  5. The assault occurs while another crime is being committed by the perpetrator

Second Degree Sexual Assault

Second degree sexual assault often does not result in life imprisonment sentences; however, it is possible for someone accused of second degree sexual assault to spend up to 15 years in jail. Although second degree sexual assault does not involve penetration, it is considered equally as damaging as first degree assault due to the violent nature of the crime, or the victim’s inability to consent. In order for sexual conduct to be considered second degree sexual assault, the following requirements must be met:

  1. Sexual contact (see definition below), and
  2. Any of the situations (a-f) listed above for first degree sexual assault.

Third Degree Sexual Assault

Third degree sexual assault is often treated similarly to second degree sexual assault, in that perpetrators can face up to 15 years in prison after being charged. The requirements for a charge of third degree sexual assault include:

  1. Sexual penetration, and
  2. One of the following circumstances:
    • The victim is a minor
    • Force and/or coercion
    • The victim is incapacitated in some form

Fourth Degree Sexual Assault

Some fourth degree assault charges are considered sexual battery rather than sexual assault. Fourth degree sexual assault requirements include:

  1. Sexual contact, and
  2. One of the following circumstances:
    • Force and/or coercion
    • The victim is incapacitated in some form
    • The perpetrator is in a position of power over the victim


  1. Sexual penetration is defined as sexual or anal intercourse, fellatio, cunnilingus, or the intrusion of any body part or any foreign object into the vaginal, anal or oral cavities.
  2. A person is considered incapacitated if they are:
    • Mentally incapable of understanding the nature of consent, due to illness or injury.
    • Mentally incapacitated due to alcohol, narcotics or any other substance administered to the victim without his or her consent.
    • Physically helpless or unable to communicate consent. A physically helpless victim can be asleep, unconscious or bound.
  3. Sexual contact is defined as intentional touching of another person’s intimate parts (groin or buttocks, or the breasts of a female), or the clothing covering the intimate parts of another person with the aim of sexual gratification or arousal.

Although the above degrees of sexual assault fit into neat descriptions, it is important to remember that in reality, assault is never neat and tidy. Each sexual assault case is completely different, and thus it is important to acquire the highly qualified assistance of the California Legal Team to help you fight any degree of sexual assault.

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