What is the Punishment for Sexual Assault in the Military?

Sexual assault in the military is a serious crime with profound consequences for both the victims and the alleged perpetrators. Sexual misconduct not only undermines the trust and camaraderie essential for military units to function effectively, but it also tarnishes the reputation of the armed forces.

For these reasons, the United States military has taken significant steps in recent years to address sexual assault, including implementing strict guidelines, punishments, and resources for those affected. Learn more about sexual assault in the military and the potential penalties for those convicted of such crimes.

What Constitutes Sexual Assault?

Sexual misconduct is covered in Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The article encompasses several distinct offenses:

  • Rape is unlawful sexual penetration without consent obtained by force, threat of force, fraud, rendering the person unconscious or incapable of controlling their actions, or other means.
  • Sexual assault is unlawful sexual contact or act without consent obtained through force, threat of force, fraud, misrepresentation of identity, or other means.
  • Aggravated sexual assault is similar to rape but without evidence of penetration. It involves sexual contact without consent when the victim is unconscious, substantially incapacitated, or otherwise unable to provide consent.
  • Aggravated sexual contact is unlawful sexual contact without consent involving force or threat of force, or when the victim is substantially incapacitated or otherwise unable to provide consent.
  • Abusive sexual contact is unlawful sexual contact without consent, involving no use of force or threat of force, but nonetheless, without the victim’s consent.

What Happens If You’re Accused of Sexual Assault in the Military?

When a service member is accused of sexual assault, the military conducts a thorough investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged incident. This may include interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence, and consulting legal and medical professionals.

If the evidence supports the allegation, the accused is charged with the appropriate offense under Article 120 and must attend an Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury hearing. At this proceeding, a military judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a non-judicial punishment, court-martial, or administrative separation from the military.

If you are accused of sexual assault in the military, seek professional legal representation immediately. You have the right to an attorney, just like an accused civilian, and it’s important for you to exercise this right and protect your legal interests.

Defending Sexual Assault Charges

Service members accused of sexual assault may argue their innocence in several ways, including:

  • Alibi: An alibi defense involves proving that you were not present when and where the sexual assault allegedly occurred. This powerful defense requires evidence that you were elsewhere at the time, such as video footage, witnesses, or other records.
  • Mistaken identity: The victim may have been under duress or trauma and mistaken you for someone else. In such cases, you may be able to provide evidence that supports your claim of mistaken identity.
  • Lack of convincing evidence: If the prosecution cannot produce sufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, you may be acquitted. After all, you are innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof lies with the prosecution.
  • Consent: If the sexual incident was consensual, you may be able to argue that you did not commit sexual assault. In such cases, you must provide evidence that the victim willingly participated.
  • Insanity: You may be able to use mental incompetence as a valid defense against sexual assault charges. Just know that insanity defenses are rare and require a high standard of proof. Consult a mental health professional and an experienced military lawyer if you plan to use this defense.

Note that some defenses are not valid. For instance, you can’t claim that alcohol clouded your judgment. Alcohol consumption does not excuse criminal behavior, so you will still be held accountable for your actions.

Being married to the victim is also not a viable defense against sexual assault charges. You must understand the boundaries of consent in any sexual encounter, regardless of the relationship between the parties involved.

Punishments for Sexual Assault in the Military

Service members convicted of sexual misconduct face severe maximum penalties:

  • Rape and sexual assault: Convicted service members may face a dishonorable discharge or bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and up to life in prison without parole.
  • Aggravated sexual assault: Those convicted of this sexual crime may face a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to 30 years.
  • Aggravated sexual contact: Convicted individuals may face a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to 20 years.
  • Abusive sexual contact: Service members convicted of abusive sexual contact may face a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to 7 years.

Service members who receive a dishonorable discharge lose their veteran benefits and forfeit the right to own firearms. They also often struggle to find employment, a vital aspect of adjusting to civilian life after leaving the military.

Defend Yourself Against Sexual Assault Charges

Being charged with sexual assault can greatly affect your personal life and military career. Even your family may suffer a long ordeal culminating in a final verdict that must be respected and accepted. But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom—a qualified military lawyer can protect your rights, even when all fingers are firmly pointed in your direction.

Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, is a military criminal defense lawyer with over a decade of experience fighting for the rights of servicemen and women stationed at home and abroad. As a former Army JAG officer, Mr. Jordan can provide exceptional legal counsel and challenge the prosecution’s claims. With a passionate military defense attorney by your side, you won’t carry the burden of building your case alone. Call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to speak directly with Mr. Jordan about defending yourself against sexual assault charges.

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