All states criminalize sexual assault and rape crimes. Most have degrees of sexual offenses, with aggravated sexual assault and rape crimes being some of the most serious. A sexual assault might be aggravated if the offender causes bodily harm to a victim, targets an especially vulnerable victim, or engages in other harmful conduct.
This article reviews common aggravating factors for sexual assault crimes and their increased penalties.
A person commits sexual assault or rape by engaging in nonconsensual sexual intercourse or penetration (vaginal, anal, or oral) with another. The offense becomes aggravated sexual assault when the circumstances of the crime increase in severity, which might include harming the victim, targeting a vulnerable victim, or engaging in other harmful conduct.
Some states use the term "aggravated" sexual assault or rape. Others have degrees of sexual assault crimes with first degree being the most serious and generally the equivalent of aggravated sexual assault in other states.
The circumstances that distinguish aggravated sexual assault from non-aggravated vary from state to state. Below are common circumstances that elevate the crime of sexual assault to an aggravated offense.
States typically consider sexual assault an aggravated offense if the offender:
Targeting especially vulnerable victims in a sexual assault can also result in aggravated charges. A vulnerable victim may include:
Aggravated charges may also apply if there's a power imbalance between the victim and offender. This power imbalance can be any position of authority over the victim—professional, legal, occupational, or other. Examples include when the offender is the victim's doctor, therapist, clergy leader, teacher, coach, mentor, or boss.
Other common aggravating factors for sexual offenses include the following circumstances:
Penalties for sexual assault crimes vary by state. But, generally speaking, states reserve some of their harshest penalties for aggravated sex crimes. These penalties might include long prison sentences, mandatory or minimum sentences, restrictions or prohibitions on probation or parole eligibility, and required sex offender treatment.
Sexual assault crimes are generally felonies that carry the possibility of years in prison. For sexual assault or rape, prison sentences might range from 5 to 20 years (or more). A person convicted of aggravated rape, though, could face decades to life in prison.
Mandatory sentences are some of the harshest penalties imposed by states, because judges are not supposed to deviate from them, even if the offender expresses remorse or other mitigating circumstances exist. Because aggravated sexual assault is considered a serious violent offense, many states set minimum or mandatory prison terms in such cases. This is especially true if the offender brandished or used a weapon or is a repeat offender.
Another way states increase penalties for crimes is by restricting or denying an offender eligibility for probation or parole.
Probation allows an offender to serve all or part of their sentence in the community. If an offender isn't probation eligible, they must serve their entire sentence in prison.
Many states offer parole or supervised release as incentives for inmates to exhibit good behavior in prison. Inmates who earn "good time" can be released early from prison (and supervised in the community). For heinous crimes, a state might eliminate parole as an option altogether or take other punitive actions, such as pushing out an inmate's parole eligibility date or reducing the amount of "good time" an inmate can earn.
A state might impose sex offender treatment requirements for offenders convicted of aggravated sexual assault. Mandatory treatment, whether in prison or on probation, normally consists of individual or group counseling, specific sex offender programs, and possibly medication.
Aggravated sexual assault or rape is a very serious crime. Defendants face the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence and life as convicted felons. Anyone convicted of aggravated sexual assault will also be required to register as a sex offender. If you have accusations or charges for aggravated rape or similar charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.