Rape vs. Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Harassment

When you’re facing criminal charges for a sex crime, it helps to know exactly what you’re up against. Below, you’ll find a simplified breakdown of Pennsylvania’s current definitions and penalties for three commonly confused terms: rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.

Please note that as Pennsylvania law changes over time, the penalties for these sex offenses may change as well. The best way to make sure you have the right information for your case is to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer.

Sexual Assault Charges & Penalties

Sexual assault is the umbrella term for criminal offenses that involve engaging in sexual activity without the consent of the other person. Many more specific sex crimes fall under this category, including:

  • Statutory sexual assault
  • Indecent assault
  • Aggravated indecent assault
  • Institutional sexual assault
  • Rape

Generally speaking, Pennsylvania classifies sexual assault as a second-degree felony, which means that it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, $25,000 in fines, and sex offender registration with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, if your attorney can get your charges reduced to a misdemeanor, the penalties you face could be severely reduced.

Rape Charges & Penalties

Although both sexual assault and rape refer to non-consensual sex acts, rape is considered a more severe crime. Why? Because rape is forced sexual activity, whereas sexual assault is not.

In Pennsylvania, rape is a first-degree felony and, as you now know, is defined as “forcible sexual intercourse.” This includes scenarios in which the victim is threatened, unconscious, drugged, or mentally disabled. A very closely related crime is involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, which refers to using an object to penetrate another person’s body.

Since both rape and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse are first-degree felonies, they can be punished by up to 20 years in prison, $25,000 in fines, and sex offender registration with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, there are circumstances in which the penalties can be even more severe, such as if the victim is a child or you have previous convictions on your criminal record.

Sexual Harassment: A Civil Offense

Unlike sexual assault and rape, sexual harassment is not considered a criminal offense in the state of Pennsylvania. Rather, victims of sexual harassment can file a civil claim or lawsuit against the person who made sexual advances in the workplace.

That being said, it’s important to understand that the moment a sexual advance turns into a non-consensual sex act (as opposed to an inappropriate suggestion or non-sexual touching), the accusation could quickly turn into a criminal charge, such as sexual assault or rape.

Sex Crime Defenses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The best way to defend yourself against a rape or sexual assault accusation is to put an aggressive criminal defense attorney on your side as soon as possible. Depending on the details of your case, your attorney may be able to argue one or more of the following defenses in order to get your charges reduced or dismissed:

  • You did not use force
  • You did not threaten the alleged victim
  • The alleged victim consented to the sex act
  • The alleged victim was old enough to consent
  • You were under the influence of alcohol (this defense can make a difference in rare cases)
  • You suffer (or temporarily suffered) from some form of insanity

If you have been accused of a sex crime in the Pittsburgh area, allow my law firm, Allegheny Attorneys at Law, to help you. As someone who has been defending the criminally accused since 2001, I’m not afraid to take an aggressive approach to protect your rights. Call today to schedule your free consultation.


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