Sexual Assault in Minnesota

last updated September 2012

Sexual assault is referred to as “criminal sexual conduct” under Minnesota law. The offense includes conduct that ranges from unwanted sexual contact such touching clothing that covers an intimate part of the body to rape with a dangerous weapon. Criminal sexual conduct under Minnesota law also covers activities such as sex with a minor and incest.
Prevalence & Effects of Sexual Assault in Minnesota
Sexual assault in all forms is a grave problem around the world, and Minnesota is no exception.  According to the 2007 report Costs of Sexual Violence in Minnesota, 61, 000 people in Minnesota were sexually assaulted in 2005; 80% of whom were female. The same report indicated that in 2005 there were 7,200 law enforcement reports of “unwanted sexual intercourse,” 2,617 of which met the definition of rape. According to this report the cost of sexual assault in Minnesota was nearly $8 billion in 2005, or $1540 per Minnesota resident. Of that $8 billion 88% resulted from the victims’ pain and suffering, and only 2% was accounted for by victim services and criminal justice.
Definition of Sexual Assault
Minnesota law defines “sexual assault” to include four degrees of criminal sexual conduct as well as incest.[1] Each degree or category involves some type of unwanted, coerced, and/or forced sexual contact (e.g. fondling, groping), sexual penetration, sexual relations. The variation in degree is related to status and relationship of the persons involved as well as factors such as the ages of the victim and perpetrator, their relationship to one another, and the presence of weapons.
  • First degree criminal sexual conduct. First degree is the most serious level of the offense. Although the statute does not use the term “rape,” this type of violation includes forced intercourse with a person age 16 or older in which the victim has fear of imminent bodily harm, the perpetrator uses a dangerous weapon to force the victim to consent, or the perpetrator causes injury to the victim. If the victim is under 13 and the perpetrator is at least 36 months older, any sexual contact constitutes a first degree violation. Mistake as to the victim’s age and consent are not defenses. First degree conduct also includes provisions for sexual conduct with children who are between 13 and 16 if the perpetrator is in a position of authority or has a significant relationship with the child.  The penalty for a first degree violation is imprisonment up to 30 years, or a fine up to $40,000, or both.[2]
  • Second degree criminal sexual conduct. This includes circumstances described in first degree conduct except that it involves sexual contact instead of penetration.The penalty is imprisonment up to 25 years, or a fine up to $35,000, or both.[3]
  • Third degree criminal sexual conduct. Third degree sexual assault includes various acts involving juveniles that are considered less serious than those covered by first degree sexual conduct. It includes penetration of a victim of any age if force or coercion is used. It also includes penetration by psychotherapists, members of the clergy and government employees under certain circumstances. The penalty is imprisonment up to 15 years, or a fine up to $30,000, or both.[4]
  • Fourth degree criminal sexual conduct. Fourth degree sexual conduct is similar to third degree, except that it applies to sexual contact instead of penetration. The penalty is imprisonment up to 10 years, or a fine up to $20,000, or both. If the victim is 13-15 years old and the actor is less than 4 years older, the penalty cannot exceed 5 years imprisonment.[5]
Important Concepts in Minnesota Sexual Assault Laws
Penetration vs. Sexual Contact. Sexual penetration includes oral sex and “any intrusion, however slight,” of a body part or an object into the genital or anal openings.[6] The requirements for “sexual contact” vary with the crime charged, but in all cases there must be “sexual” or “aggressive” intent behind the contact. Sexual contact could include touching intimate parts, touching clothing covering the immediate area of intimate parts, or contact between semen and these areas.[7]
Consent. Consent requires free and active agreement of both parties to sexual penetration or sexual contact. Consent is not present if a person is below the legal age of consent, fears the consequences of not consenting, says no (verbally or by actions), is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, is mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.[8]
Force and Coercion. Jury guides make clear that the “force” or “coercion” element closely mirrors the “fear of imminent bodily harm,” “personal injury,” or “dangerous weapon” elements. “Force” includes trying or threatening to inflict bodily harm upon another, or intentionally causing another to fear for his or her immediate safety. However, force can also include committing or threatening to commit any crime against another.  “Coercion” is similar to “force” but also includes confinement and threats to a third person.[9]
Fear of Imminent Bodily Harm. To constitute an element of the offense, the fear must be reasonable and the bodily harm must be great. “Bodily harm” means “physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.”[10] “Great bodily harm” means “bodily harm that creates a high probability of death, or causes serious permanent disfigurement, or causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment” of a body part, or other serious harm.[11] “Imminent” means that the person fears that such harm will occur immediately.
Significant Relationship. A “significant relationship” is one in which the perpetrator is the victim’s parent, stepparent, guardian, sibling, first cousin, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, grandparent, or great-aunt or –uncle, whether by adoption or by blood, or if the perpetrator lives with the victim and is not the victim’s spouse.[12]
Personal Injury. “Personal injury” means bodily harm, severe mental anguish, or pregnancy.[13]
Voluntary Relationships. It may be a defense to a charge of criminal sexual conduct under Minnesota law if the parties are cohabiting in an ongoing voluntary sexual relationship or they are legal spouses. This defense does not apply, however, if the spouses are living apart and have filed for divorce or legal separation or if the perpetrator uses or threatens violence. [14]  This conduct is referred to as “intimate partner violence” or “marital rape.”[15]
Procedural and Constitutional Issues
Evidentiary Rules for Minnesota Sexual Assault Cases. In sexual assault prosecutions, the victim’s testimony need not be corroborated.   In addition, there is no requirement to show that the victim resisted the accused.  Evidence of the victim’s previous sexual conduct may not be used in court unless the judge finds that certain requirements are met.[16]
Multiple Charges for the Same Act. In Minnesota a prosecutor may bring charges for criminal sexual conduct as well as “any other crime committed by the defendant as part of the same conduct,” without violating the Constitution’s prohibition of double jeopardy.  The sentences may be served consecutively.[17]
Extended Confinement & Enhanced Sentencing. As is the case throughout the U.S., sex offenders in Minnesota can be civilly committed and held indefinitely after they serve their sentences if they are found to be dangerous and likely to repeat their crimes.[18] However, the state must make a legitimate effort to treat the sex offenders. In a recent opinion, a federal magistrate judge ordered the Minnesota Department of Human Services to reform its practice of civilly committing sex offenders, detaining them in prison-like environments, and rarely, if ever, releasing them.[19]
In Minnesota, first-time perpetrators whose criminal sexual conduct is accompanied by two or more “heinous” elements – including, in special circumstances, torture, intentional mutilation, gang rape, inhumane conditions, kidnapping, or multiple victims – are subject to a mandatory sentence of life in prison.  Repeat offenders receive a mandatory life sentence if one heinous element is present.[20] In addition, prosecutors can bring charges for the separate crime of “criminal sexual predatory conduct” to enhance the penalties.[21]
Sex Offender Registration
The U.S. Attorney General is required to maintain the National Sex Offender Registry, a database containing the names and locations of known sex offenders.[22] The state of Minnesota also requires the registration and tracking of those deemed to be predatory sex offenders.[23] Under Minnesota law a person is guilty of “criminal sexual predatory conduct” if the person “commits a predatory crime that was motivated by the offender's sexual impulses or was part of a predatory pattern of behavior that had criminal sexual conduct as its goal.”[24] Predatory crimes include most degrees of murder, manslaughter, assault, robbery, kidnapping, false imprisonment, tampering with a witness, arson, or burglary.[25]
Victim Assistance in Minnesota
For victims of sexual assault seeking justice, time can be an enemy. To help obtain a successful prosecution of a sexual assault, a victim should contact a sexual assault hotline, get medical attention and preserve evidence of the assault.[26] Minnesota law provides for limited financial assistance to victims of sexual assault.  It requires the county in which the criminal sexual conduct occurred to pay the costs of certain examinations when the costs are incurred by the county, city, or a private hospital or other emergency medical facility.  Examples of these costs include full cost of the rape kit examination, associated tests relating to the complainant's sexually transmitted disease status, and pregnancy status.[27]
Unfortunately, the Minnesota legislature has spent more on incarceration and rehabilitation of violent sexual offenders than on people who were assaulted.  In 2006, the Minnesota government spent $130.5 million on sexual offenders in comparison to $90.5 million on people who were sexually assaulted.[28]
Innovative Practices
Several Minnesota organizations have innovative programs to combat sexual violence.  More than 100 private and public programs provide services to sexual assault victims. The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) serves more than 60 member organizations throughout the state.[29] It provides training and education to its members and is the home of the Sexual Violence Justice Institute, which creates resources and promotes victim-centered prosecution of sexual assault cases. Alpha Human Services, a private non-profit organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is nationally recognized for leadership and innovation in the treatment of sex offenders.[30]  It offers a variety of services, most notably, the only inpatient treatment program for adult male sex offenders in Minnesota.[31]  Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are nurses trained in collecting forensic evidence and in attending to the emotional and medical needs of sexual violence victims. SANE programs, which were created in the late 1970s, play an important role in responding to sexual violence and are commonly found in Minnesota hospitals.[32]

[8] “About Sexual Violence,” Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault,; Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1.
[9] 10 Minn. Prac., Jury Instr. Guides--Criminal CRIMJIG 12.01.
[15] “About Sexual Violence,” Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault,
[17] State v. Munn, WL 2077264 (Minn. App. 2012); Minn.Stat. § 609.035 subd. 6.
[18] United States v. Comstock, 130 S. Ct. 1949 (2010); In re Linehan, 594 N.W.2d 867 (Minn. 1999).
[19] Karsjens et al v. Minnesota Department of Human Services, Civ. No. 11-3659 (DWF/JK) (D. Minn. Aug. 15, 2012).
[26] “Seek Help – What to Do,” Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault,
[28] Costs of Sexual Violence in Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Health, p. 4 (July 2007)
[29] Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault,
[30] Critical Issues in Sexual Assault, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, p. 18 (July 2007)
[31] Alpha Human Services,
[32] Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Sexual Assault Response Team,