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California Sexual Assault Laws

Crimes generally referred to as sexual assault (see FindLaw's Sex Crimes section) may be prosecuted through California's sexual assault, or sexual battery, laws. These laws prohibit unwanted touching of another person's intimate parts. The California Penal Code defines intimate parts as the victim's "sexual organ, anus, groin, or buttocks of any person, and the breast of a female." When sexual assault leads to nonconsensual intercourse with the victim, it's charged as rape.

To prove a case of sexual battery, the prosecutor must establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant touched the victim's intimate parts while the victim was restrained by the defendant or another person. The touching may occur through direct contact to the victim's skin or indirect contact through the victim's clothing.
  2. The touching was against the victim's will. The prosecutor must establish that the victim did not consent to the contact.
  3. The defendant intended to engage in the unwanted touching for the purpose of sexual gratification, sexual arousal, or sexual abuse. If the defendant touched the victim for a non-sexual purpose, such as a medical professional conducting an examination, it might be more difficult for the prosecutor to establish the required elements for a successful case.

California Sexual Assault Laws: An Overview

For more information on specific California sexual assault laws, see the chart below.

Possible Penalties
  • Misdemeanor Sexual Battery: This is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. The fine can increase to $3,000 if the defendant was the victim's employer.
  • Felony Sexual Battery: This has a range of punishments. The defendant could receive a term of imprisonment in county jail for up to one year and a fine of up to $2,000. However, California state laws also allow for imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years as well as a fine of up to $10,000.

A defendant might decide to use consent as a defensive argument. If the defendant can prove that sexual contact did not violate the victim's will, due to the other person's consent or permission, the prosecutor may be unable to establish the elements of sexual battery. Consent often becomes a controversial defense, however, because the argument may require a discussion of the victim's past history. When the alleged victim is a child or an individual lacking mental capacity, consent is not an acceptable defense.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources For California Sexual Assault Laws

Get Professional Help With Your Sexual Assault Case

If you're facing sexual assault charges, challenging victim testimony can be a delicate balancing act. In these and in any other sexual assault case, it's important to have a strong criminal defense attorney in your corner, one who understands the process and the best ways to present your defense.

If you wish to bring a civil case for sexual assault, a personal injury attorney experienced in sexual abuse cases can help. 

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