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What Qualifies As Sexual Assault In California?

California sexual assault laws protect its residents from non-consensual, forcible, or fraudulent sex acts. These laws define the actions and the necessary punishments for each offense. Victims of sexual battery can sue the person for misdemeanor or felony in civil court.

Whether you are wrongfully accused of committing a sexual assault or a victim, your best option is to seek the assistance of a professional criminal defense attorney. Working with a legal expert who is well-versed in defending against sex crime charges in Riverside spells a difference between living behind the bars and freedom. If you’re the victim, it means getting the justice and compensation package you deserve.

Overview of sexual assault laws of California

Under Section 234.4 of the California Penal Code, the act of touching, groping, rubbing, or kissing the person’s intimate part without explicit consent is a sexual assault. When the perpetrator forcefully touches the victim in sexual ways, it is considered sexual battery. It also constitutes situations that include drugging, restraining, mentally incapacitating the victim, tampering, or removing the condom without consent.

The sexual assault laws also cover any form of oral copulation or sexual penetration committed on a minor below 14 years old by someone seven years older than the victim. They prohibit the immediate or future acts of putting the victim under the threat of injury or violence.

Elements of sexual battery

To establish a sexual assault, the prosecutor should show the following acts:        

  • The defendant touched the victim’s intimate part, including the sexual organ, buttocks, breasts, groin, or anus. Touching can be direct (through the skin) or indirect (through the victim’s clothing).
  • The victim is against touching or did not give consent for such action.
  • The defendant has the intention to engage in the act of touching for sexual purposes.

The key to determining a sexual act is the intent. Accidental touching due to circumstances like rushing into a crowded place, medical examination, and other non-sexual purposes for professional purposes is not considered a sexual assault. 

Why file for a civil case?

Technically, victims of sexual assaults in California can file a case in a civil court, criminal court, or both. Opting for a criminal case means the state will bring the case to the court rather than the victim, who will just act as a prosecutor’s witness. While it leads to the perpetrator’s conviction, you don’t directly say how the case is represented.

Whereas filing for a civil claim lets you entrust the case to your defense lawyer and entitles you to financial compensation to cover medical expenses, lost income, rehabilitation, punitive damages, or pain and suffering.

Punishments for sexual assaults

Sexual assault in California that falls under misdemeanor includes intentionally groping the buttock or fondling a stranger’s breast without first obtaining permission. These acts are punishable by up to six months jail time in a country jail and a fine of $2,000 up to $ 3,000 if the perpetrator is the victim’s employer.

Aggravated forms of sexual battery like sexual abuse, sexual arousal, or sexual gratification can be elevated to a felony offense. The situation may involve holding, kissing, unclothing the victims against their will, falsely telling the patient to touch the breast, or convincing a mentally ill person to engage in masturbation. Felony charges entail imprisonment of 2 to 4 years and paying a fine of up to $10,000. 

Sexual assault claims’ statute of limitations

Adult victims should file a sexual assault claim within ten years after the malicious act or within three years if they discover an illness or injury related to or a result of the sexual battery. For children and minors, the statute of limitation is longer. It allows the survivors of childhood molestation to file a claim until their 40th birthday or up to 5 years from discovering a psychological injury due to the sexual assault. 

There is also a 3-year window time from January 1, 2020,  for the sexual assault victims whose claims expired to file a civil lawsuit against a living or dead perpetrator, the government, or a private organization wherever the abuse has been committed. 


Surviving the ordeal of being accused of sexual assault or being the victim is a difficult process. Hiring an experienced and dedicated California attorney in this legal field is your first line of defense. Choose a reliable one to defend and protect your rights in court battles.

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