The Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Contact in NJ

Sexual assault and sexual contact are both serious sexual offenses in New Jersey.  The crime of “sexual assault” covers more serious criminal sexual contact, such as rape or other acts of penetration while “sexual contact” primarily covers unwanted touching or feeling.  If you were charged with either of these crimes, it is important to talk to a criminal defense attorney about whether you were appropriately charged and what you can do to fight the charges against you.  The Atlantic City sex crimes defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych represent others in your situation and may be able to help you, too.

Sexual Assault vs. Criminal Sexual Contact in New Jersey

The crimes of sexual assault and criminal sexual contact have somewhat confusing names.  Most people would expect a rape crime to be called “rape.”  However, the New Jersey legislature calls a crime involving the sexual penetration of another “sexual assault.”  This further confuses things because most people might expect that “sexual assault” is something less than rape.  Instead, that crime is known as “criminal sexual contact” in NJ.  What this means is that any crime involving sexual penetration of another is classified under the crime of “sexual assault,” and that any contact short of penetration is “criminal sexual contact.”

Sexual assault is codified under N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-2 and sexual contact is codified under N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-3.  Each statute contains a “simple” form of the crime as well as an “aggravated” version, for more serious conduct.

Simple Assault and Simple Sexual Contact

For the simple version of each crime, it is illegal to commit an act of sexual penetration (for sexual assault) or sexual contact (for criminal sexual contact) under one of these circumstances:

  • The actor uses force (but does not cause severe injury);
  • The victim is on probation, on parole, in prison, institutionalized, or otherwise under the actor’s supervision;
  • The victim is 16 or 17 years old and the actor is related to the victim, supervises the victim, or is the victim’s legal guardian; or
  • The victim is at least 13 years old, but under 16, and the actor is 4 or more years older.

Aggravated Assault and Aggravated Sexual Contact

For aggravated assault or aggravated sexual contact, the conditions reflect a more obvious lack of consent, increased violence, or higher risk of abuse.  The crime becomes aggravated sexual assault (for an act of penetration) or aggravated sexual contact (for an act of sexual contact) under these circumstances:

  • The victim is under 13 years old;
  • The victim is 13 or older, but under 16 years old, and the actor is related to the victim, supervises the victim, or is the victim’s legal guardian;
  • The act occurs during another crime (e. “robbery, kidnapping, homicide, aggravated assault on another, burglary, arson or criminal escape”);
  • The actor is armed (or made the victim think he was armed);
  • The actor has help from other people;
  • The actor uses force and causes “severe personal injury”; or
  • The actor knows or should have known the victim cannot consent because of physical or mental incapacitation (g. the victim is drugged, unconscious, or mentally challenged).

Other Sexual Offenses

There is one other concept that confuses these two crimes.  While sexual contact is usually any contact short of penetration, a sexual contact crime can be upgraded to sexual assault.  This happens in cases where the victim of the sexual contact is under 13 at the time, and the actor is at least 4 years older.  The law specifically includes this under sexual assault, even though there is no act of penetration.  This means that “groping” or “molesting” a child constitutes the same crime as sexual assault with an adult victim.

Penalties for Sexual Assault and Criminal Sexual Contact in Atlantic City

These crimes vary in severity, covering the full potential range for crimes in New Jersey.  New Jersey has two types of criminal offenses: “disorderly persons offenses,” which are akin to misdemeanors, and “indictable crimes,” which are akin to felonies.  All forms of these crimes are indictable crimes, ranging from fourth to first degree.

From most to least severe, these crimes are classified as follows and carry the following punishments:

  • Aggravated sexual assault is a first degree crime punished with 10-20 years in prison and fines up to $200,000.
  • Sexual assault is a second degree crime punished with 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.
  • Aggravated criminal sexual contact is a third degree crime punished with 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
  • Criminal sexual contact is a fourth degree crime punished with up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.

Many of these crimes may also require sex offender registration, could limit your job and housing options, and have other effects.  Talk to an experienced sex crimes attorney to understand the full effects of these offenses.

Atlantic City Sex Offense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations

If you are facing charges for sexual assault or criminal sexual contact, talk to a lawyer today.  You could be facing serious penalties, including prison terms.  For a free consultation on your case, contact the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today at (609) 616-4956.

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