Understanding sexual assault and consent

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the consent of the recipient.

Sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced, or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity.

Sexual assault is never your fault.  

What is consent?

Consent is agreeing to engage in sexual activity.  Consent means the individuals know and understand what is being agreed upon. 

Sometimes you cannot give legal consent to sexual activity or contact. For example, if you are:

  • Threatened, forced, coerced, or manipulated into agreeing
  • Not physically able to (you are too drunk or high, drugged, passed out, or asleep)
  • Not mentally able to (due to illness or disability)
  • Younger than 16 years old in WA

What does the law say?

According to the statute in Washington law,  RCW 9A.44.010 :

"Sexual contact" means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party or a third party.

"Consent" means that at the time of the act of sexual intercourse or sexual contact there are actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.  

There are various felony sexual assault crimes that can be charged in Washington state.    Some of the more common felony sex offenses are discussed below:

  • Rape in the 1st Degree (RCW 9A.44.040) is severe in that it shows use of force either with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, serious injury, or while illegally entering to reach the victim.
  • Rape in the 2nd Degree (RCW 9a.44.050) is usually used in cases of forced compulsion or when the victim is physically helpless (like being asleep) or mentally incapacitated.
  • Rape in the 3rd Degree (RCW 9A.44.060) is often used in a "date rape" situation or when there has been a lack of consent for sexual intercourse.  This statute would be used when the victim did not consent as defined in RCW 9A.44.010(7), to sexual intercourse with the perpetrator and such lack of consent was clearly expressed by the victim's words or conduct.
  • Indecent Liberties (RCW 9a.44.100) is when a person causes another person to have sexual contact with them either by force, when the person is incapable of consent (i.e. mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless), when the victim is developmentally disabled.


Sue Rahr, Interim Chief of Police
Address: 610 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98104-1900
Mailing Address: PO Box 34986, Seattle, WA, 98124-4986
Phone: (206) 625-5011
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The Seattle Police Department (SPD) prevents crime, enforces laws, and supports quality public safety by delivering respectful, professional, and dependable police services. SPD operates within a framework that divides the city into five geographical areas called "precincts".