Defining Sexual Assault For Politicians Who Don’t Get It

I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her…You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p—y. You can do anything.

Most have heard, or at least read, Mr. Trump’s recorded statements on his behavior around women. Trump himself has described the comment as locker room talk.  However, in the wake of the comments, a number of women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual assault.  For instance, a woman named Jessica Leeds has accused Trump of fondling her on an airplane.  Trump has responded to these accusations by, among other things, arguing that the women who have come forward are not attractive enough for him to assault.

For obvious reasons, Trump’s words have drawn broad criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle. Many prominent Republicans, such as John McCain, have even withdrawn their support for Trump’s candidacy for president.

However, this withdrawal of support has been halfhearted to say the least. Many Republican politicians who denounced Trump—such as South Dakota Senator John Thune, New Jersey Representative Scott Garrett, and Alabama Representative Bradley Byrne—have gone on to make it clear that their denunciation of his statements is still not enough to stop them from casting their vote in his favor.  Rape

Some politicians have taken a different approach to the comments. When asked in an interview, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions stated that he wouldn’t characterize what Trump was describing as sexual assault.  In a follow up, he was asked “So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that’s not sexual assault?”  Senator Sessions responded “I don’t know.  It’s not clear that he—how that would occur.”

Jeff Sessions has since issued a statement that he has been misrepresented based on this interview and his response was based on confusion as to Trump’s words and the question posed by the reporters. With this in mind, it seems worth clearing up confusion on what is sexual assault under the law.  Just as a favor to the good Senator.

Understanding the Crimes and Causes of Action of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is when any sexual activity occurs without clear consent from both parties. While the exact elements of the crime vary from state to state, it is a crime in every state. Sexual assault laws also forbid sexual activity with a person who is unable to consent such as people who are mentally ill, under the age of 18, or intoxicated are considered unable to consent. There are more specific crimes, also with elements that can vary quite a bit from state to state, that fall under the umbrella of sexual assault, such as: rape, molestation, forced sodomy, and incest.

Sexual assault does not require, but may include, force or threat of force. Instead, they hinge on the sexual touching being unwanted and offensive.  This can cover a wide range of types of victimization.  As an example, where a person—without any comment, warning or consent—were to kiss a woman or, “grab them by the p—y” that would unquestionably be criminal sexual assault.

The most grotesque and savage or crimes falling under the umbrella of sexual assault is, of course, rape. The exact elements of rape vary more drastically from state to state than any other crime of sexual assault, with some states requiring penetration by male genitalia, while others have a broader approach to include other unwanted sex acts.  Some states do not recognize rape committed by a spouse, while most do not make the distinction. While these are the most common distinctions, there are many other variations depending on the state.

At its core, rape is a forced sex act achieved by force or threat of force. This can include psychological coercion as well as physical force.  Depending on the rape statute and the exact facts, grabbing a woman “by the p—y” could very well rise to the level of rape.

Both sexual assault and rape give rise to civil charges as well as criminal charges if the victim wishes to bring such a case against the person who attacked them.

Sexual Assault in the U.S.

About 20 million out of 112 million women in the U.S., nearly one in five, have been raped during their lifetime. Nearly 300,000 people aged 12 and older are victims of rape or sexual assault in the U.S. during any given year. Even with numbers this high, authorities still estimate that only approximately a third of all sexual assault cases are reported to the police.

Despite the seriousness of this issue, there seems to have been substantial confusion amongst politicians as to what exactly represents sexual assault or rape. It has not been so long since the infamous “legitimate rape” comments from Former Missouri Representative Todd Akin.  In the recent debates, Mr. Trump took quite a bit of pressing on his comments before finally stating that he never acted on his words—dancing around the question of whether he understood that his recorded remarks described sexual assault.

Sexual assault is too serious an issue to trivialize its promotion as “locker room talk” and too dangerous to let those with the most power over passing litigation to misunderstand. It is crucial that our leaders recognize and condemn these heinous acts with more than just empty words.  Our leaders need to understand the problem and be part of the solution.

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