Difference between Sexual Assault and Sexual Battery

By: | Updated: Dec-21, 2017
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In some legal cases, sexual battery and sexual assault are paired together. Despite being related, these are two separate criminal offenses carrying various degrees of punishment. No matter how different state laws can be, this article aims to make general distinctions about these two sexual crimes.

Summary Table

Sexual Assault Sexual Battery
Non-consensual sexual intercourse Non-consensual sexual touching or physical contact
A form of sexual violence Also called criminal sexual contact
Considered a felony in some states Usually considered (at the very least) a misdemeanor charge


Sexual assault is a felony in most states

Sexual assault is defined as a criminal act in which a person is physically forced or coerced to engage in sexual intercourse. It is a form of sexual violence that encompasses rape (e.g. vaginal, oral, anal penetration), child sexual abuse, groping, and torture done in a sexual manner. The absence of consent is the biggest factor that defines an act as sexual assault.

In the US, sexual assault is defined differently depending on the state laws that are in effect. In some states, attempted rape, sexual threats, or touching any part of another’s body in a sexual way (even with clothes on) against their will is considered sexual assault.

Since sexual assault laws differ from state to state, sentencing rules vary among the states as well. Also, the federal government enforces its own system of sentencing. For instance, in the state of California, a sexual assault convict may face up to 4 years in jail in addition to possibly being slapped with a $10,000 fine. In New York, sexual assult is a Class D felony in which the guilty party may serve a minimum of 1 to 2 years and a maximum of 7 years or more.

Touching without consent
Touching in a sexual manner without consent is sexual battery

Sexual battery, also called “criminal sexual contact,” is defined as sexual conduct involving physical contact or touching imposed on an unwilling victim. Sexual battery may not involve sexual penetration but it is still a serious offense. This criminal act is usually characterized by touching another person’s intimate parts. This also includes forcing another person to touch the offender’s intimate body parts. Sexual battery is committed by the offender as a source of sexual satisfaction or arousal and always without the consent of the victim. Laws and definitions surrounding sexual battery vary depending on the state where the criminal act was committed.

As laws surrounding sexual battery may vary in each state, penalties associated with this criminal act are not uniform either. Offenders may serve anywhere from 2 – 40 years. In some states, a repeat offender or someone on probation who is again convicted of sexual battery may be imprisoned for life. A person convicted of sexual battery is usually required to serve out the better part of his sentence before being eligible for parole. An offender on probation is subjected to intensive supervision that may include polygraph tests, counseling, weekly reporting, and electronic monitoring. They are also prohibited from coming near where children usually gather. An offender is also required to register himself in the sex offender registry.

Sexual Assault vs Sexual Battery

So what’s the difference between sexual assault and sexual battery? While laws surrounding sexual assault and sexual battery differ widely from state to state, both criminal activities do have one thing in common: the absence of consent.

Sexual assault is considered in many jurisdictions as a form of sexual violence involving non-consensual sexual intercourse. Sexual battery, alternatively called criminal sexual contact, is an offense characterized by touching or physical contact committed against the will of another person, or on someone incapable of providing consent.

In New York, a person convicted of sexual assault can be sentenced a minimum of 1 – 2 years up to a maximum of 7 years. Federal courts can a set a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Penalties for sexual battery are less severe but may be considered a felony if the sexual attack results in physical injury, if the offender was armed, or if it was committed by more than one person. An offender may be sentenced anywhere from 1 to several years depending on state laws and circumstances surrounding the case. It also a requirement for an offender to register with the sexual offender registry.

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