As discussions and accusations of sexual assault surround the presidential campaign, many people are reflecting on their own experiences. Unfortunately, this is a subject area that is very relevant, very emotional, and very traumatic for many people.

This article highlights sexual assault laws in Washington State, discusses what it means to “consent” to sexual contact, and offers suggestions for what to do if you are sexually assaulted.

*What is Sexual Assault?

“Sexual assault” is a term used to refer to any type of sexual activity that lacks consent. Legal definitions of sexual assault crimes vary by state, but sexual assault may include non-consensual intercourse or rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, and sexual harassment.

*Sexual Assault Laws in Washington State:

In Washington State, there are three different degrees of rape crimes, involving non-consensual sexual intercourse. Additionally, there is a law called “Indecent Liberties” prohibiting sexual conduct that is anything other than sexual intercourse, without the victim’s consent.

Rape in the first degree (class A felony): RCW 9A.44.040:  Forced sexual intercourse without the victim’s consent, where the perpetrator:

  • uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon
  • kidnaps the victim; or
  • inflicts serious physical injury
  • enters into the building or vehicle where the victim is located

Rape in the second degree (class A felony): RCW 9A.44.050:  Forced sexual intercourse without the victim’s consent, where:

  • the perpetrator uses forcible compulsion (physical force or threat), or
  • the victim is incapable of consent because he/she is physically helpless, mentally incapacitated, or developmentally disabled.

Rape in the third degree (class C felony): RCW 9A.44.060:  Forced sexual intercourse without the victim’s consent, where:

  • circumstances do not constitute first or second degree rape
  • victim’s lack of consent was expressed by words or conduct, or
  • there is threat of substantial harm to victim’s property rights

Indecent Liberties (class A felony): RCW 9a.44.100:  Forced sexual contact without the victim’s consent, where:

  • the perpetrator uses forcible compulsion (physical force or threat), or
  • the victim is incapable of consent because he/she is physically helpless, mentally incapacitated, or developmentally disabled.
  • Sexual contact” means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party or a third party.

There are additional laws and statutes covering child molestation crimes, custodial misconduct, incest, child rape, and sexual misconduct with minors. Please see Chapter 9a.44 RCW for details.

*Understanding Consent:

Consent means “giving permission for something to happen”. In terms of sexual contact, consent means willingly choosing to participate. The University of Washington webpage aptly describes what consent looks like:

  • Consent is not the absence of a no, it’s the presence of a yes
  • The best way to know if you have consent is to ask
  • Consent can always be withdrawn
  • Consent isn’t something given just once; it’s ongoing active process
  • Nothing makes consent automatic or unnecessary
  • In some situations, full, informed and free consent cannot truly be given (incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, emotional distress or coercion)

*What to do if you are sexually assaulted:

  • If you are in an emergency situation, please call 911 immediately.
  • Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline for help or support: 1-800-656-HOPE
  • Talk to someone you can trust. Utilize emotional support to help take care of yourself.
  • Seek medical care. This is important for treating or preventing illness or injury and also for collecting evidence should you choose to press charges.
  • Contact the police. It is your decision whether to file a report and your right to do so. It is beneficial to your case to do this as quickly as possible, but it can be done later as well.
  • Obtain legal representation. It is essential to have a skilled attorney on your side to advise you of your options and advocate for your best interests.
  • Seek professional counseling. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience and we recommend you seek supportive counseling to help you cope with the impacts of the assault.

*Legal Representation:

If you are seeking protection following a sexual assault, contact a criminal defense attorney who will help you to understand your rights and options, including determining whether to file a protection order.

If you find yourself in a position where you are being falsely accused of a sexual assault crime, please don’t waste any time in enlisting competent legal counsel. These are significant charges and you should not try to tackle them without experienced counsel to advise you appropriately and advocate on your behalf.