Sexual Assault and Rape

Sexual Assault and Rape in Pennsylvania

Sex crimes are among the most heinous of all crimes. Fortunately, society has supported the many recent sexual assault and rape victims who have come forward for justice and recompense. But many others are out there who have yet to reveal themselves, and sadly, many more will become victims. 

In Pennsylvania, victims may have recourse through a personal injury claim and recover valuable damages to help them cope with their pain and losses. Additionally, sexual assault and rape lawyers in Pennsylvania can also help victims of these crimes access resources available to victims of sex crimes. 

Sexual Assault Laws in PA

Sexual assault laws in Pennsylvania detail various sexual acts considered to be criminal within the state. They are graded as either misdemeanors or felonies, with the lion’s share of them being felony offenses. As you will see, lack of consent is a major element in crimes of a sexual nature. 

Rape

Rape is one of the most vicious crimes and causes significant physical and emotional suffering for the victim and their loved ones. In Pennsylvania, rape is specifically defined as sexual intercourse:

  • Through the use of forcible compulsion
  • Through the use of threats of force
  • With an unconscious person or with someone known by the alleged assailant to be unaware that the act of intercourse is taking place
  • By substantially impairing another party’s ability to appraise or control their conduct through the use of drugs or other intoxicants
  • With a person who has a mental disability that renders them incapable of providing legal consent

Rape is a first-degree felony in the Keystone State and can potentially land an offender behind bars for up to 20 years or more if drugs or alcohol were used to manipulate a victim. 

Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse

The crime of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is practically identical to rape. The difference between the two is that involuntary deviate sexual intercourse encompasses more criminal sexual acts than rape, such as sexual acts involving penetration with objects and sexual acts with animals. 

Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse also includes sex using a person’s mouth or anus. As with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is a felony of the first degree and is punished in a substantially similar fashion, with 20 years being the maximum unless there were aggravating circumstances.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault in Pennsylvania deals with unwanted sexual activity or sexual activity received without consent except for those acts covered by the laws dealing with involuntary deviate sexual assault and rape. 

Statutory Sexual Assault

Statutory sexual assault in Pennsylvania makes sex a crime when one of the parties is not married and one of the parties is age 13–15 and four or more years younger than the other party. It does not matter whether the victim gave consent. Because they are under the age of 16, their consent does not count as legal. 

For example, if a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old have sex, statutory sexual assault would not apply, even though a 15-year-old cannot legally consent to sex. The age gap between the two must be at least four years for a charge of statutory sexual assault to apply. 

For purposes of statutory sexual assault, sex occurs when two parties have vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse.

Consent

Consent refers to the acquiescence to a proposal from another party. In Pennsylvania, as in other states, consent is the lynchpin of legal and healthy sexual activity. Without consent, one of the parties to a sexual act becomes a victim of a sexual crime. But what precisely is consent under Pennsylvania law?

Generally, consent in the context of sexual activity occurs when a person voluntarily and clearly agrees to sexual activity prior to the sexual act beginning. It is something that must be given and obtained each time a sexual act occurs. 

In other words, two parties who have a history of consensual activity must still obtain consent for future sex acts with one another. 

Conditions Necessary for Effective Consent

Effective consent (which can also be considered legal consent) involves more than a party saying yes or otherwise agreeing to sexual activity. The consent given must have certain characteristics, or it will be deemed to be ineffective.

According to Pennsylvania statutes, consent is considered to be ineffective if the person giving consent:

  • Is legally incapacitated from authorizing the conduct in question
  • Was subject to force, duress, or fraud when deciding to consent
  • Is legally incapable of giving it, such as a minor, a person who is legally mentally incapacitated, or an intoxicated person

Consent is also ineffective when the rash consent given by a party is precisely what the law defining the offense is trying to prevent.

Regarding the age of consent, in Pennsylvania, the legal age of consent is 16 years old. People 16 years old or older can legally consent to have sex with anyone of the same age or older as long as the person they are to have sex with is not in an authoritative position over them.

For example, a person who is 16 years old can legally consent to engage in sexual activity with someone they meet at a park, regardless of the age of that person. However, they cannot legally consent to having sex with a teacher or another adult who has authority over them.

The Importance of Consent in Sexual Activity

Consent is important in sexual activity for many reasons. Principally, consent protects at least one of the parties from experiencing unwanted activity. But that’s not all. Consent also protects both parties from civil liability and serious criminal charges. 

Additionally, consent helps build meaningful relationships and respect among consenting individuals and provides both parties with legal assurances and stability, which helps them enjoy the relationship to its fullest. 

Sexual Assault Evidence Collection

As with any other legal case, evidence is absolutely critical in sexual assault and rape cases. Without evidence, a sexual assault case will typically boil down to a he-said-she-said battle. When this occurs, it becomes difficult, and often impossible, to prosecute the alleged offender. 

Immediate Evidence Collection

Much of the most powerful types of evidence used in prosecuting sexual assault cases is vulnerable to degradation due to the passage of time, the nature of the evidence, and the normal habits of victims. 

For example, much of the evidence used in sexual assault and rape cases is biological in nature. Without some type of preservation efforts, it becomes difficult to properly handle and test bodily fluids and body parts because of degradation over time and exposure to air, heat, and moisture.  

Because of these evidentiary concerns, sexual assault and rape victims should take legal action as soon as possible after a sex crime, even though it may be painful and potentially humiliating to do so. Failure to do so could mean the perpetrator beats the criminal charges as well as the civil claim for damages against them.

Evidence Gathering Procedures

Not many play as important a role in sexual assault and rape cases as healthcare workers who treat victims of these crimes. In addition to providing sex crime victims with treatment and care for their injuries, some designated healthcare workers are responsible for collecting evidence related to the crimes the victims experience.

The evidence-collection procedure when a suspected victim of a sexual crime enters a hospital begins the moment a healthcare professional attends to them. 

Because evidence of sexual assault and rape is often found on clothing, one of the first things healthcare professionals do in these circumstances is to collect and preserve the victim’s clothing. This clothing might have all manner of valuable evidence, including:

  • Hairs
  • Skin tissue
  • Blood 
  • Saliva
  • Semen
  • Sweat
  • Fabrics or materials from the perpetrator

Securing the clothing usually takes place while the victim undresses over a large piece of paper used to collect any evidence that might fall off during undressing. The examiner will also complete the patient’s medical history at this time.

Once the clothing has been secured, the medical professional will then proceed with a physical examination of the patient, making sure to document all of the injuries sustained in the attack. They will also take various forms of biological evidence for testing, such as:

  • Blood evidence that may help identify the perpetrator
  • Semen and saliva evidence left by the perpetrator
  • Fingernail clipping that may belong to the perpetrator
  • Hair follicles
  • Swabs of the victim’s body, including genitalia, anus, skin, and inside the mouth

Although any qualified doctor or nurse can perform a “rape kit” examination, many hospitals and healthcare facilities have designated staff members who are responsible for these tasks. 

They are typically specially trained to effectively and efficiently carry out the duties involved in an exam of this nature, which can typically last anywhere between four and six hours. 

Role of Attorneys in Sexual Assault Cases

Sexual assault cases are legal events with high-stakes consequences. Because the law is involved, attorneys are absolutely necessary for parties to these legal actions.

Criminal Law Actions

Criminally speaking, a defendant charged with sexual assault or rape in Pennsylvania can face spending the rest of their lives behind bars. They need an experienced sexual assault defense attorney representing them to prevent this from happening. 

An experienced sexual assault defense lawyer can find the weak points in a criminal case and systematically dismantle it.

Other attorneys involved in criminal cases include prosecutors and attorneys for victims. Prosecutors decide what to charge and how far the prosecution should go, which is largely influenced by the circumstances of the case. 

For example, the more egregious the sexual assault or rape, the more likely the prosecutor seeks prison time above the normal amount.

Although the state represents the victim and society in prosecutions, sexual assault and rape victims sometimes procure attorneys to safeguard their interests during criminal proceedings. 

An attorney in this area of service can protect the victim from criminal liability of their own, file restraining orders against the defendant, and help their client access resources for sexual assault victims. They can also connect them with groups dedicated to stopping sexual violence, such as the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). 

Civil Claims

Civil claims dealing with sexual assault and rape are typically claims for compensation for injuries and losses sustained in a sexual attack. Attorneys in this realm work diligently to maximize their client’s claims and the money paid as damages. 

Because no insurance covers sexual assault damages, the plaintiff’s attorneys must sue the alleged perpetrator directly. This means the defendant must also hire an attorney to defend them against a lawsuit for damages. 

Act 164

Act 164 is known as the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act – Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Program. It was passed in 2018 to increase protection for the public and facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators. 

Under the act, healthcare providers must follow established rules when treating sexual assault victims and gathering evidence. Healthcare providers must also follow discharge protocols that lead to the optimal protection of sex crime victims. 

Human Trafficking

Although the number of human trafficking victims within Pennsylvania is not precisely known, what is known is that many of them are trafficked for sex purposes against their will. This means that within the state, there is an abundance of sexual assault and rape cases that go on all the time. 

Victims of sex trafficking are vulnerable and need organizations such as PCAR to help them recover, adjust, and potentially get justice. The PA Department of Human Services also provides resources to trafficking victims, and there are a few human trafficking hotlines victims can call. 

Consult a Trusted PA Sexual Assault Attorney About Your Case

When victims of sexual assault or rape come forward, law enforcement can pursue criminal charges and prison time. If unsuccessful or if they refuse to pursue an offender, victims can still seek compensation for the harm done to them by pursuing damages in a personal injury claim.

If you have been subjected to sexual assault or rape, let a sexual assault and rape lawyer from McCormick and Vilushis review your case to identify your options for getting compensation through justice. 

Practice Areas

Reliable Solutions From Experienced Attorneys

Speak With Us

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Checkboxes