Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Stigma of Sexual Assault and How A Sexual Assault Attorney Can Help

It is estimated that one in four women in Colorado, and one in seventeen men, will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Defined as “knowingly causing another person to engage in an unwanted sexual act by force or threat”, sexual assault covers a wide range of acts, including rape (forced vaginal, oral/anal penetration), child molestation, unwanted kissing, groping, or any other non-consensual sexual touching. It is one of the most serious crimes a person can commit, and the impact of the assault can be long lasting and widespread, traumatizing victims for years to come. Because of the nature of the crime, being accused of sexual assault is a life-changing event that has consequences that can be long-lasting and all-encompassing. And that is why, if you are charged with sexual assault, it is important to talk to a sexual assault attorney.

The three defenses of sexual assault

When someone is charged with sexual assault, there are three main defenses that a sexual assault attorney may recommend: absolute innocence, mental disability or insanity, or that contact was consensual.

Absolute innocence means establishing that the accused was never there at the time of the crime, either through eyewitness testimony, DNA evidence, or other legal means. Proving a defendant’s alibi or proving misidentification can go a long way to proving that he or she is innocent of the crime. While only 22% of sexual assaults are committed by strangers, in over 72% of DNA exonerated rape cases, the strongest evidence was eyewitness testimony that was inaccurate. Studies have repeatedly shown that eyewitness testimony is often flawed, as memories can be changed or influenced. A good sexual assault attorney will work with the evidence and the facts to defend their clients in court.

Mental disability or insanity can only be used as a defense if it can be proven that the defendant does indeed suffer from it. This can also include circumstances in which the defendant has consumed some form of judgment-impairing medication or substance. The challenging part of this defense is not only proving that the defendant was suffering from this at the time of the crime, but also that their mental impairment would affect their comprehension of sexual assault and consent. Another important thing to know is that, because sexual assault is tried at the state level, each state may treat mental disability or insanity differently (something a sexual assault attorney would be able to advise on).

The most challenging defense of all is the claim that the act was consensual. Because the defendant is admitting to committing the act, it is up to them to prove that the victim did indeed consent. This is often impossible because proof of consent (e.g. Text messages, emails, witness testimony, etc. that prove that the victim stated it was consensual, even after the fact) cannot be found. Any defense of consent that relies on a victim’s prior sexual history to prove consent should not be recommended by a sexual assault attorney, since it may turn the jury against the defendant. As well, marriage does not automatically count as consent. In fact, 9% of reported sexual assaults happened within the bounds of marriage or by a prior partner. If a person does not consent to the act at the time of the act, regardless of current or prior relationship status, it falls under the category of sexual assault.

Having someone on your side

Sexual assault is a crime that many accused find polarizing. Either his/her family and friends will support him/her, or the accused may find him/herself adrift. Hiring a sexual assault attorney immediately after being charged with (or accused of) a crime of this nature is the best way to have your side of the story told—and your rights protected. While it can be easy to feel that only the guilty need to immediately get an attorney on the case, when it comes to sexual assault, it is important to have representation as soon as possible. Accusations of sexual assault can tarnish even the innocent, with long lasting effects and life changing results. Your sexual assault attorney will listen to what you have to say and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the proceedings.