Sexual Assault
2009 Presidential Proclamation made it clear that sexual assault remains an area of grave concern in the U.S., with studies showing that 18% of women have been raped in their lifetime. There are federal laws that are specially targeted to sexual assault. Penalties under these federal laws generally range from fines to lifetime imprisonment, with the only exception being sexual assault resulting in death, for which there are higher penalties, as discussed below.
The reach of federal sexual assault laws is constrained by U.S. Constitutional limits because sexual assault is not an economic activity and generally does not have an interstate component. Thus, each law described in this section will only apply “in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or in a Federal prison.” It is important to recognize that the bulk of laws dealing with sexual assault in the U.S. are state laws. Nonetheless, just as in its approach to domestic violence, the federal government has complemented the criminal laws with funding initiatives and grants to encourage and assist the state and local governments in dealing with sexual assault.
Federal sexual assault laws include the following:
·   Aggravated Sexual Abuse, 18 U.S.C. § 2241:  This law makes it a federal crime to knowingly cause another person to engage in a sexual act by using physical force, or using threats that place a person in fear of death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping. It is also a crime to cause another person to engage in a sexual act “by other means,” such as administering an intoxicating substance that impairs the other person’s ability to understand or control his or her own conduct. In addition, attempts to commit such acts are also criminalized.
·   Sexual Abuse, 18 U.S.C. § 2242:  This law makes it a federal crime to knowingly force another person to engage in a sexual act by means that are less direct than those described in 18 U.S.C. § 2241. This law does not require the use of actual physical force and includes the use of threats that places someone in fear of things other than death, serious bodily injury or kidnapping. In addition, this law makes it a crime to engage in a sexual act with anyone who is incapable of understanding the nature of the act or is physically incapable of communicating his or her refusal or unwillingness.
·   Abusive Sexual Contact, 18 U.S.C. § 2244:  This law is broader than 18 U.S.C. §§ 2241-42, and may be termed a “catchall” provision to criminalize sexually abusive conduct that does not result in a completed sexual act. Under this law, it is a crime to knowingly cause or engage in “sexual contact” with another person if, had the act been completed, it would be a crime under any other related provision, such as 18 U.S.C. §§2241-42. “Sexual contact” is defined broadly, meaning any “intentional touching, 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.” Furthermore, any knowing sexual contact with another without that person’s permission is also punishable.
·   Sexual Abuse Resulting in Death, 18 U.S.C. § 2245:  This law provides for an enhanced penalty where someone causes the death of another person while committing a sexual assault offense. Rather than being punishable by a fine or prison term or a combination thereof, a conviction under this law is punishable by a prison term for any number of years to life in prison, or by capital punishment.
·   Female Genital Mutilation, 18 U.S.C. § 116:  This law makes it a crime to knowingly circumcise, excise, or infibulate any part of a female’s genitalia, where said female is not yet 18 years old. Such acts are punishable regardless of the effect or beliefs of either the person being subjected to the operation or any other person or whether the act is part of a religious ritual or custom. The only exceptions to this law are operations performed by medical professionals for the health of the person operated upon or other medical need.
·   The Campus Security Act of 1990, 20 USC § 1092(f)): This law was enacted to target and prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses. The law requires educational institutions that receive federal funds to make available any information they have regarding the possible presence of registered sex offenders, as well as any sexual assault crimes on or around the campus.
·   The Justice for All Act of 2004:  This act incorporates several different measures intended to enhance protection of victims and increases the availability of federal resources to state and local governments for combating sexual violence. The act modifies and adds to the rights available to victims, most notably the right to be heard at any public proceeding involving the attacker, including hearings on the release, plea, or sentencing. Under this act, prosecutors are required to advise victims that they can seek the advice of an attorney with respect to the rights established by the act. In addition, under the act, victims are also allowed to file motions to reopen a plea or sentence under certain circumstances.