What to do if You Are Sexually Assaulted While Unconscious

What to do if You Are Sexually Assaulted While Unconscious

The ongoing controversy surrounding a former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman has shed the spotlight on the serious yet often overlooked problem of sex crimes committed against incapacitated victims.

Under California law, an individual is unable to give legal consent to sexual contact if they are intoxicated or unconscious.  In other words, all sexual activity conducted where one party is unconscious is considered illegal sexual assault or sexual abuse.

What Counts as Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is broadly used to refer to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the victim’s consent.  Some common forms of criminal sexual assault include:

  • Groping, fondling, or unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcible sexual activity, including forced oral sex or forcing the victim to penetrate the perpetrator’s body
  • Penetration of the victim’s body, otherwise known as rape
  • Attempted rape

Additionally, the definition of ‘force’ is not limited to physical coercion.  ‘Forced’ activity can also include activity involving intimidation or the threat of violence, duress, emotional coercion, or other forms of psychological coercion, abuse, or misconduct.

To reiterate, any form of sexual activity that occurs while a victim is unconscious or otherwise incapacitated is considered by the law to be sexual assault.  Even in cases where consent may have been previously given, that consent is legally revoked as soon as the victim enters a state where they are no longer able to actively consent to sexual activity.

What to do After a Sexual Assault

If you believe you have been a victim of sexual assault that occurred while you were unconscious, it is important to act quickly in order to ensure both your own rights and the safety of potential future victims.

First, seek out medical attention immediately.  Not only will medical professionals be able to assist with any acute injuries you may have suffered, they will also be able to refer you to counseling and support services to help you through emotional healing and dealing with the effects of trauma.  Additionally, medical personnel will be able to collect evidence that can assist law enforcement in bringing your assailant to justice.

Once you have received medical care, notify authorities of your assault as soon as possible.  It can be extremely difficult and sometimes re-traumatizing to recount the details of an assault to law enforcement officers so soon after the incident, however the chances that your assailant will face consequences for their crime increase substantially the sooner you file a report.   Reporting the incident quickly also significantly decreases the chances that your assailant will be able to victimize others.

On-Campus Sexual Assault

Many college and university campuses have established extra-legal processes for handling allegations of on-campus sexual assault or harassment.  These systems can be useful for providing temporary relief for victims; for example, they may formally separate the accused assailant from the victim during the duration of the investigation, and they possess the power to expel an assailant based on the results of an internal investigation.  The burden of proof needed to determine guilt in these institutional proceedings is often much lower than that within the formal legal system, meaning an accused assailant is more likely to be found guilty and punished.

However, the available punishments are much more limited in institutional proceedings than in legal proceedings, and in recent years many universities have faced a barrage of criticism and federal investigations relating to their mishandling of sexual assault cases.  It is highly recommended that you report your assault to both campus authorities and local law enforcement.

Hire a Sexual Assault Attorney

After receiving medical attention and notifying authorities, it is highly recommended that you consult with a specialized sexual assault attorney.  While law enforcement officials gather evidence to criminally prosecute your assailant, a private sexual assault lawyer can begin the process of filing a civil lawsuit on your behalf.  In a successful civil lawsuit, you can be awarded compensation for your injury, including damages related to medical and emotional injuries.  The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is lower than that of a criminal case, meaning that as a victim the court may award you monetary damages even if your assailant is acquitted of a crime.  The experienced attorneys at The Dominguez Firm, LLP handle complex sexual assault cases around the greater Los Angeles area with the sensitivity our clients require.  Contact our firm today for a free consultation about your case at 800-818-1818.