Degrees of Sexual Abuse in Washington DC

Washington, D.C. sexual abuse crimes are divided into five different categories (first-degree through fourth degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor sexual abuse) depending on the severity of the offense.

First Degree Sexual Abuse

First-degree sexual abuse, the most serious category, is defined as when a person engages in or causes another person to engage in or submit to a sexual act:

  1. By using force against that other person;
  2. By threatening or placing that other person in reasonable fear that any person will be subjected to death, bodily injury, or kidnapping;
  3. After rendering that other person unconscious; or
  4. After administering to that other person by force or threat of force, or without the knowledge or permission of that other person, a drug, intoxicant, or other similar substance that substantially impairs the ability of that other person to appraise or control his or her conduct.

This crime is a felony which may carry a life-sentence and a fine of up to $125,000.

Second Degree Sexual Abuse

Second-degree sexual abuse differs in that it is defined as when a person engages in or causes another person to engage in or submit to a sexual act:

  1. By threatening or placing that other person in reasonable fear (other than by threatening or placing that other person in reasonable fear that any person will be subjected to death, bodily injury, or kidnapping); or
  2. Where the person knows or has reason to know that the other person is:
    (A) Incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct;
    (B) Incapable of declining participation in that sexual act; or
    (C) Incapable of communicating unwillingness to engage in that sexual act.

This crime if a felony which may carry up to a $50,000 fine and 20 years in prison.

Difference Between “Sexual Act” And “Sexual Contact”

Third and fourth degree sexual abuse are the same as their more severe counterparts (1st and 2nd degree, respectively) but differ in that they are defined as when a person engages in or causes “sexual contact” with or by another person, rather than a “sexual act.”

“Sexual contact” means “the touching with any clothed or unclothed body part or any object, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.” “Sexual act,” which is more severe, means:

  • The penetration, however slight, of the anus or vulva of another by a penis;
  • Contact between the mouth and the penis, the mouth and the vulva, or the mouth and the anus; or
  • The penetration, however slight, of the anus or vulva by a hand or finger or by any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

Other Sex Crimes and the Importance of Criminal Defense

It is important to note that sex abuse crimes may be subject to enhanced penalties due to aggravating circumstances. These circumstances include if the victim is less than twelve years old, if the victim is less than eighteen years old but bears a significant relationship with the offender, if the victim sustained bodily injury, if the offender had accomplices, or if the offender was armed with a weapon. Under such circumstances, the offender can be sentenced to up to 1 and 1/2 times the maximum penalty prescribed for the particular offense.

D.C. Code also lays out other sex abuse crimes involving someone in a position of power (i.e. staff members of hospitals/prisons, or teachers) committing sexual abuse against those under the staff member’s control. Similarly, the Code includes crimes involving someone in a position of trust (i.e. a professional) committing sexual abuse against his or her client or patient.

It is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are accused of any sexual abuse crimes. Not only do these crimes carry serious penalties, but those convicted of sexual abuse often must register as sex offenders for life. This can result in other consequences, such as difficulty obtaining employment. An experienced criminal defense attorney can argue the specific defenses necessary to dispose of your charges, or even negotiate a reasonable plea agreement that may result in a lighter sentence.

If you are facing sexual abuse charges, contact the experienced attorneys at Bruckheim & Patel to help you handle your case.