Representing Victims of Sexual Offenses throughout the District
In Washington, D.C., sexual abuse is classified on the basis of four different categories depending on the level of their seriousness. If the sexual abuse involves children, there are additional misdemeanor charges and other charges that would be based on the level of sexual abuse and physical violence.
The most important thing to note is that sexual abuse is a serious crime and is not taken lightly by the court system in Washington, D.C. If you are a victim of a sex crime, a sexual abuse attorney at Ashcraft & Gerel may be able to help with your case.
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What Is Considered a Sexual Act?
In the District of Columbia, the Code states that a sexual act has taken place if the following events occur:
- There is penetration, even minor, of the vulva or anus of another individual, by a penis
- If there is contact between the penis and mouth, the vulva and the mouth or the anus and the mouth
- There is penetration, even minor, of the vulva or the anus by the finger or a hand or any inanimate object, with intent to humiliate, abuse, degrade, harass, gratify, or arouse the sexual desire of any individual
In addition, the D.C. Code defines “sexual contact” as touching with any unclothed or clothed body part or any object, either indirectly or directly or through the clothing, of the anus, genitals, breast, groin, buttocks or inner thigh of any individual with an intent to humiliate, abuse, arouse, degrade, or gratify the sexual desire of another individual.
Of the four categories of sexual abuse, the first-degree charge is the most serious and the fourth-degree is the least serious.
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First-Degree Sexual Abuse
In Washington, D.C., there are two key factors that help determine whether a particular sexual offense can be classified as first-degree sexual abuse. The first factor is the requirement that the individual either engages another individual in a sexual act or somehow causes the other individual to participate in or engage in a sexual act. The second factor addresses exactly how this sexual act transpires. It could be that the offender used actual physical force against the other individual. It could be that the offender threatened the other person by inducing fear so that if he or she did not submit, the victim would be subjected to bodily harm/injury, kidnapping, or death. This reasoning also covers broader threats, for example, if the offender threatens to harm, hurt, or kill a family member if the victim does not submit to the sex act. First-degree sexual abuse also includes date rape. For example, if the victim is rendered unconscious either by force or by use of any intoxicant (drug, alcohol), thus impairing the mental status and capability of the victim or impairing the individual’s ability to control his or her conduct, this constitutes date rape.
For first-degree sexual abuse in D.C., a guilty verdict carries a fine of up to $250,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. In many cases, if the victim suffered serious bodily harm, your sexual abuse lawyer may request for a life sentence.
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Second-Degree Sexual Abuse
When determining whether a particular act of sexual abuse was second degree, the first factor is similar to that when determining first-degree sexual abuse, which is that the offender either engages another individual in a sexual act or somehow causes the other individual to engage in or submit to a sexual act.
However, with second-degree sexual abuse, the prosecution has the burden to prove that the offender threatened or induced unreasonable fear or that the offender knew or should have known that the other individual was incapable of either declining participation in the sexual act, was not able to appraise the nature of the conduct, or did state that he or she did not wish to engage in the act.
The major difference between first- and second-degree sexual abuse is, with first-degree sexual abuse, the offender actually plays an active role in rendering the individual unconsciousness, whereas, in second-degree sexual abuse, the offender simply takes advantage of the unconscious individual. If a person is found guilty of second-degree sexual abuse in D.C., the penalty could be a maximum monetary fine of $200,000 and incarceration for up to a maximum of 20 years.
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Third-Degree/Fourth-Degree Sexual Abuse
With first- and second-degree sexual abuse cases there is usually a sexual act (i.e. penetration), but with third- and fourth-degree sexual abuse, there is usually only sexual contact, like inappropriate touching. When classifying third- and fourth-degree sexual offenses, the difference lies in determining how the sexual contact was made and if there were any threats or use of force. Again, with third-degree sexual abuse, there is an actual threat or physical force used to induce fear of bodily injury, kidnapping, death, or rendering the individual unconscious. With a fourth-degree sexual offense, this usually involves inducing reasonable fear of any type of bodily harm or the victim is already unconscious.
Anyone in D.C. convicted of third-degree sexual abuse faces a maximum fine of $100,000 and incarceration of up to 10 years; the penalty for fourth-degree sexual abuse is a maximum fine of $50,000 and jail time of no more than five years.
Misdemeanor Sexual Abuse
Any individual who engages in either a sexual act or sexual contact with another person without that individual’s permission can be convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse. A classic example is a teacher engaging with his or her underage students in sexual acts. In D.C., the penalty for this crime is a maximum fine of $1,000 and a maximum jail sentence of up to 6 months.
Consent is an important component when classifying sexual abuse. The D.C. Code defines consent as any indication—through words or actions—that indicates an agreement to the sexual act or sexual contact in question. If the victim is forced to submit to sexual abuse through the use of force, threats, or coercion, this does not fall under the definition of consent. In simple words, consent is something which is given voluntarily, out of one’s own accord. If this is not the case, then it is not consent.
In addition, if the person is deemed incapable of giving consent, then such consent cannot be assumed or implied. This is often the case in sexual abuse cases that are the result of date rape when the victim is drugged and is unable to give consent because of the inability to think properly or because they are intoxicated and/or unconscious.
Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Cases in D.C.
Like most crimes, there is a statute of limitation on sexual abuse in Washington, D.C. The time limits apply to both the offender and the victim. If you are a victim and plan to sue, you should to it promptly. In addition, sexual abuse lawyers also have to file charges in a reasonable amount of time. An important thing to keep in mind is that laws often change and any criminal statute of limitations that apply to your case will be based on the time the actual sexual abuse took place and not when you decide to take legal action. This means that, even though the legislation may have changed during that timeframe, the old rules will apply to an old offense. One cannot apply new legislation retroactively to old cases. Once this time limitation has run out, the proceedings cannot be started again, meaning that the offender can no longer be prosecuted.
As far as minors are concerned, the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution for sexual abuse in D.C. is 15 years for first- or second-degree abuse of a child. This does not begin to run until the victim is 21 years of age. If there is incest, child pornography, and/or sexual abuse of a ward or patient, there is a window of 10 years.
It is important to know that this statute of limitations does vary in civil litigation depending on circumstances (see below). Whether you want to press charges for a sexual offense committed against you or if you have been charged with an old sexual abuse case, it is best to consult a sexual abuse attorney to determine the best possible plan of action.
Civil Lawsuit for Sexual Abuse
If you are accused of sexual abuse, these are serious charges which must be handled with care. Even if you are found not guilty in court, the victim in question may decide to sue you in civil court. The burden of proof is much less in civilian cases. The victim may sue you for any damages (physical and emotional), but the victim also has the onus of filing the claim within an appropriate time interval.
In D.C., there is a civic statute of limitations which states that the case must be filed:
- three years before the victim’s 18th birthday if the sexual abuse occurred while the victim was a minor; and
- Three years from the actual sexual abuse itself.
It is important to note that as far as civil personal injury cases are concerned, the District of Columbia statute of limitations allows judges to use the “delayed discovery” rule. This means that if an individual was raped by someone a few years ago and if there was a delay in civil case proceedings due to reasons such as collecting of evidence, speaking to witnesses, getting police reports, and/or waiting for the criminal trial to end, the judge may apply the delayed discovery rule.
A judge could also believe that the victim may have suffered post traumatic disorder and suppressed his or her memory, resulting in a delay in filing the civil suit. This factor may be considered when making a ruling. Therefore, it is possible that a judge may factor in this time delay and offer the victim additional time for filing a civilian lawsuit.
Moreover, if the victim is a ward or a parent of the abuser, the statute of limitations may not even start, regardless of age, until the victim no longer has any relationship with the abuser. In such cases, it is possible that the statute of limitations becomes applicable only after the crime is complete. If the sexual abuse is deemed to be continuing, this gives the victim additional time to come forward and file a claim.
When to Consult a Sexual Abuse Attorney
Whether you are a victim of sexual abuse or you have been accused of the crime, you need to consult a sexual abuse attorney immediately. If you are a victim, you need external support and experience to determine what you should do next. Remember, any delays can result in the person who abused you to get away with it and find their next victim. So act now. Find out your options. Get the help and support you need. Don’t think that any information you provide to your sexual abuse attorney will be made public. Everything you discuss with your attorney is private and confidential. The most important thing to understand is that time is critical if you want to win the case.
If you have been accused of sexual abuse, you cannot possibly deal with the legal consequences on your own. This is a serious crime for which penalties are harsh. Not only will you lose your professional status, but you will also be required to register as a sexual offender. Contact our criminal defense lawyers as soon as possible.
Contact Ashcraft & Gerel Today
For all cases related to sexual abuse, we have a team of professionals at Ashcraft & Gerel who can help you deal with the legal proceedings and provide you the support you need. You can be assured we will do our best to fight for justice. Call us now at (202) 783-6400 for a free consultation or simply fill out the form available on our website, and one of our representatives will be sure to call you back as soon as possible.