Reporting Sexual Assault in California

Sexual assault is a criminal offense in California and victims can make a claim to receive compensation for their injuries through civil court. Here is how to report sexual assault in California.

To report sexual assault in California, contact a law enforcement officer to create a written report and be assigned a tracking number for the case. Make sure to provide a clear, descriptive account of the assault, as well as a list of any witnesses in order to ensure the strongest case against an attacker.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is an unwanted sexual interaction. The interaction happens without the consent of the victim and is commonly accompanied by force, duress, violence, menace, or threats. Sexual assault is listed as a crime and grounds for restitution can be found under penal code 263.1. There are different forms of sexual assault, some of which include:

  • Unwanted touching or fondling
    • This may include a stranger touching an individual without their consent or an individual being touched by someone they know. If the touching/fondling and/or groping was done against an individual’s will, the interaction may be considered sexual assault.
  • Forcing someone to perform a sexual act against their will
    • May include a stranger forcing an individual to perform a sexual act.
    • Sexually coercing a significant other to perform a requested sexual act.
    • Related: Sexual Coercion in California
  • Knowingly misleading someone about a sexual interaction
    • Lying about wearing a condom.
    • Lying about being on birth control.
    • Lying about one’s identity. This has become more common with online dating.
  • Attempted rape
    • An unconsented failed attempt to penetrate an individual.
    • A significant other attempting to engage in unwanted sexual intercourse.
  • Rape
    • Unconsented sexual intercourse
    • Can be with a stranger, but in most cases, rape occurs by an individual that a person has a relationship with or whom they have met before.
  • Sexual interaction with a minor
    • Sexual interaction with a minor is a crime whether done with or without the consent of the minor. Under penal code 261.5, any sexual interaction that occurs with a minor is considered sexual assault because minors cannot legally give consent.
  • Molestation of a minor
    • Can include but is not limited to touching, sexually speaking, or attempting to sexually harass a minor.

Related: Sexual Assault Laws in California

Criminal Assault Case v Civil Claim for Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is considered a criminal offense under the California penal code and considered an intentional tort in the civil justice system. An individual may choose to go through either the civil or criminal court; however, depending on an individual’s situation, one may be more favorable than the other. For most survivors, the civil justice system is the best option. The following are some of the differences between the civil and criminal systems and what individuals can expect when pursuing a lawsuit through either system:

  • The criminal justice system requires the prosecutor to prove that the sexual assault of the individual happened beyond a reasonable doubt. This high burden of proof makes it difficult to convict a defendant and almost always requires there to be witnesses or undeniable evidence of the assault. In the civil justice system, the standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, which means the survivor only needs to prove that it is more likely than not that the assault happened.
  • If pursuing a civil lawsuit, an individual can seek restitution for the damages they endured, whereas a criminal lawsuit will not grant restitution, but may grant a sense of closure or justice.
  • The state controls proceedings in a criminal case, whereas in a civil lawsuit all the major decisions are taken and rest with the plaintiff.

Civil claims are separate from criminal claims which means that an individual can choose to pursue a civil lawsuit even if the state failed to bring criminal charges. This also means that the state can pursue criminal charges even if the individual chooses not to pursue a case through the civil justice system. This is especially the case with sexual assault cases involving minors.

Related: Sexual Assault in Civil vs. Criminal Court

How Long Does a Person Have to File a Sexual Assault Claim?

If the assault occurred on or after the plaintiff’s 18th birthday, an individual has two different statutes of limitations to file a sexual assault claim and seek restitution for damages suffered:

  • “Within 10 years from the date of the last act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault by the defendant against the plaintiff.” (340.16)
    • If the intent was there, an individual may file a claim against their assailant, even if the act was unsuccessful.
  • “Within three years from the date, the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that an injury or illness resulted from an act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault by the defendant against the plaintiff.” (340.16)
    • If an illness, condition, or disease arising from the sexual assault, an individual may file a claim within the three-year statute of limitations.

As of January 2020, if the plaintiff is now an adult but suffered from childhood abuse they have the following time frame to file their claim:

  • A survivor of childhood abuse has up to 22 years after becoming an adult (18 years of age) to file a claim (AB 218).
    • This means an individual must file a claim by their 40th birthday. While a survivor of child abuse is now granted 22 years after becoming an adult, it is recommended that the survivor files their claim as soon as they feel safe and comfortable to do so. Filing sooner allows for a stronger case and a higher possibility for compensation.
  • Within five years of the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after turning 18 was caused by the sexual assault (AB 218).

Related: California Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault


Can I file a sexual assault claim against a spouse or significant other?

An individual can file either a criminal or civil case against a spouse or partner.

What can I do if I was sexually assaulted at work?

An individual should contact their supervisor to file a report. If the assault was done by a supervisor and/or they feel unsafe filing at their workplace, they can contact the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Related: How to File a Sexual Harassment Complaint in California

What can I do if I think a child is being sexually assaulted?

Teachers and school personnel are mandated by law to report sexual assault or suspicions of sexual assault. A mandated reporter should contact the California Department of Education if they suspect a child is being sexually abused. If a parent fears their child is being sexually assaulted by another individual they should alert the proper authorities (if a teacher, report to the school and/or law enforcement and if another individual, report to law enforcement) and seek legal counsel from child sexual abuse lawyers as soon as possible.

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If you or a loved one would like to know more about reporting sexual assault in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified attorney for your unique legal issue. Get your free consultation with one of our experienced sexual assault attorneys in California today!