As any sexual assault lawyer can tell you, we can become victims of sexual violence regardless of our age, gender, and sexual orientation. While women are more frequent targets, men experience a fair share of sexual violence as well. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men surveyed had experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives.
Contrary to the common belief that sexual violence is random, rape of female victims was largely committed by people that they know—intimate partners and acquaintances. For male victims, however, the incidence of rape being committed by a stranger was significantly higher at 15.1 percent.
More disturbingly, one in three female victims and one in four male victims first experienced rape when they were minors between 11-17 years old. Our educational institutions are not safe either, with almost a quarter of female undergraduates experiencing sexual assault or misconduct during their time at university.
Sexual Assault Laws
As moral standards and public attitudes evolved in the United States, so have our sexual assault laws and our sexual assault lawyers. Until the 1860s, women of color did not have the right to file a rape claim against a white man. Marital rape, commonly committed by husbands as a control and punishment mechanism, was considered an exemption to rape until 1976 when Nebraska established it as a crime. Still, it was not until 1993 that it was accepted as a crime across the nation.
In the past decades, rape law reforms have been enacted to shift attention from the victim to the offender. Rape shield laws are a set of laws that were passed between the 1970s and 1980s, which largely prevents rape victims from having to disclose the details of their past sexual history. Before rape shield laws, complainants were often subject to demeaning character assassination by defense attorneys, and many rape victims were discouraged from pursuing justice.
The law continues to evolve in more recent times to cover the new and modern ways in which sexual assault occurs. In 2013, California became the first state to criminalize revenge porn. Revenge porn is where someone distributes or shares sexually explicit images or videos of an individual without their consent, with the intent to cause emotional harm and distress. 42 states in the country now have criminal statutes covering revenge porn.
Types of Sexual Assault
There are many different types of actions that fall under the umbrella of sexual assault. Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact that occurs without the victim’s consent. Because sexual assault legislation varies from state to state, victims must consult a sexual assault lawyer who is experienced with fighting cases in their state.
Rape (or attempted rape), where sexual intercourse is committed against a person’s will, is the most common form of sexual assault. Forcible sodomy is a similar charge, where a person is forced to perform anal or oral sex against their will. Marital rape, as mentioned above, is another form of sexual assault.
Sexual assault can be committed verbally or visually without physical contact. Examples of non-contact sexual assault can include voyeurism, exhibitionism (also known as indecent exposure), forcing someone to pose in sexual positions, and sending sexually charged threats. In certain states, revenge porn also falls under this category.
In addition, sexual coercion is also considered a form of sexual assault. Sexual coercion is when the perpetrator pressures the victim in a non-physical way to make them participate in unwanted sexual activity. Sexual coercion often occurs in circumstances of an uneven power dynamic, where an authority figure such as a professor, an employer, or a landlord uses their influence or position to pressure a victim into sex.
Consent is Key
Consent is a central theme in sexual assault cases. The law asserts that consent has to be established by a clear “yes” to sexual interaction; not saying “no” does not equal consent. Consent is an ongoing process whereby the participant can change their mind and put an end to the sexual activity at any time, even if they are already in the middle of sexual interaction.
Furthermore, certain groups of people are not deemed capable of providing consent. Individuals cannot give legal consent to sexual contact if they are physically impaired such as asleep, intoxicated, high, or unconscious. They cannot give legal consent if they are mentally incapable due to intellectual disability or illness.
The age of consent in the US is the minimum legal age for an individual to be considered mature enough to consent to sexual contact. Therefore, agreement to participate in sexual activity from anybody below the age of consent is not legal consent. The age of consent varies from 16 to 18 years old from state to state and sexual relations with anyone below the age of consent is considered statutory rape.
False allegations are an opposing aspect of sexual assault litigation and have adversely affected the discourse around violence against women. Research has indicated 5.9 percent of sexual assault cases reported over a decade were false allegations. While the numbers are comparatively low—particularly when you consider that a significant number of bona fide sexual assaults go unreported—victims of false allegations are entitled to hire a sexual assault lawyer and pursue justice as well.
Sexual Assault Lawyers
Whether you simply want to know your legal options or seek to pursue a sexual assault claim, seeking counsel from a knowledgeable sexual assault attorney is an integral step. Here are some prominent American lawyers that specialize in sexual assault cases.
Allred, Maroko & Goldberg
Allred, Maroko & Goldberg has offices in Los Angeles and New York and is fronted by the legal powerhouse Gloria Allred, one of the most famous attorneys in America. The firm is set apart by its extensive experience of over 40 years advocating for the rights of people in the workplace, in particular women and minority groups. They have handled numerous sexual harassment cases and obtained multiple seven-figure settlements for their clients. The firm was recently part of the sexual assault claim against the University of Southern California that resulted in a staggering $1.1 billion settlement.
The Pride Law Firm
The Pride Law Firm in San Diego, CA, is a premier team of sexual assault lawyers consisting mostly of women. Managing partner Jessica Pride has fifteen years of aggressive trial experience advocating for sexual assault survivors. She is the co-founding chair of the American Association for Justice’s Sexual Assault Litigation Group and board president of San Diego’s only domestic violence and rape crisis center. The Pride Law Firm was the first law firm in California to employ a full-time Survivor Advocate. The firm focuses on empowering sex crime survivors and has dedicated experience in supporting male sexual assault victims.
Manly, Stewart & Finaldi
Manly, Stewart & Finaldi have offices in Irvine, CA, and New York. Named one of California’s top 100 attorneys, law firm founder and partner John C. Manly has spent more than two decades fighting for sexual abuse victims. The firm is one of the very few that exclusively handle sex crime cases and is known for having represented hundreds of victims of clergy and school sexual abuse. They have fought many high-profile cases, including representing 234 women as part of a suit against the University of Southern California. The firm boasts that it successfully recovered over $2 billion for its clients from jury verdicts and settlements.
Dordulian Law Group
Dordulian Law Group in Glendale, CA, is known to be the best sexual assault firm in California. Their client representation team features a former LAPD detective, a former deputy district attorney for LA county, dedicated victim advocates, and even a licensed clinical therapist. From rideshare sexual assault to nursing home sexual abuse, their commitment to sex crime survivors has seen them advocating for a diverse range of individuals. Representing rape victims is their primary area of focus, and the firm reveals that they have recently secured a $2.25 million settlement for one of their rape clients.
Andreozzi + Foote
Andreozzi + Foote has its main offices in Harrisburg, PA, and Scottsdale, AZ, and other offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and New Jersey. Managing partner Benjamin Andreozzi has represented sex crime survivors in many prominent cases including child sexual abuse victims of the clergy and the victims of disgraced college football coach Jerry Sandusky. The firm’s practice areas cover a range of sex-related offenses from youth camp abuse to hidden camera voyeurism and human trafficking abuse. They are responsible for obtaining a record-breaking $88 million jury verdict in Pennsylvania state court on behalf of their client.
Seek Help for Sexual Assault
Aside from causing physical damage and emotional trauma to the victims, sexual assault has an unmeasurable cost for society as well. The threat of sexual violence brings fear and uneasiness to a community and can weaken the pillars of trust that have taken years to build. Victim services and anonymous helplines are integral to support sexual assault survivors.
Even as sexual assault legislation has evolved to better protect survivors, there remain many social and cultural reasons to stop sexual assault victims from coming forward. By speaking to an experienced and empathetic sexual assault lawyer, individuals can get a better sense of their options and gain the courage and confidence to seek justice.