Sexual Assault Conversation: Timely, Relevant, and Necessary

Much has occurred during the current election cycle. Our nation has been engaged in a number of debates, including discussions about sexual assault; conversations that most people would find disturbing. Journalists, political pundits, legal experts, and the public have found themselves talking about whether or not grabbing a person’s genital area is a crime.

statue of Justice

Many people have strong opinions on the topic. But in at least one state, Michigan, such conduct would most likely be criminal. Michigan divides its primary sexual misconduct statute into two types of behavior: sexual penetration and sexual contact.

In Michigan, Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) in the Fourth Degree is defined as using force or coercion to accomplish the intentional touching of a victim’s or actor’s intimate parts (described as the primary genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttock, or breast of a human being), if that intentional touching can reasonably be construed as being for sexual purposes. [CSC 4th (MCL750.520e )] In situations similar to the one described in the current national discussion, Michigan courts have found criminal culpability. For example, a man’s CSC-4th conviction for actively pinching a victim’s buttocks was upheld. Similarly, a defendant who touched a woman’s breast without her permission was found guilty of CSC-4th degree.

Because this national debate was based on a conversation about grabbing the genital area of women, many people have concluded that locker room banter, bragging, or joking about sexual misconduct is not the same thing as performing an illegal act. To be sure, talking about inappropriate sexual contact is not the same as committing inappropriate sexual contact. But the notion that one person has the right, without retribution, to sexually assault another person because of their status or gender speaks to the very reason Michigan led the way in reforming outdated sexual laws. Michigan’s approach to reforming rape laws include disavowing the historical view that women were property and that women were required to resist against nonconsensual sexual assaults.

Sexual assault is not a laughing matter. Sexual assault is a violent crime. And although it is unusual to discuss sexual assault laws crime in the midst of a national election cycle, the ensuing conversation about sexual misconduct is timely, relevant, and necessary.

krause-phelan_tonyaBlog author WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Defending Battered Women, Criminal Sentencing, and Ethics in Criminal Cases. She assists with the West Michigan Defenders Clinic and coaches national mock trial and moot court teams, and is frequently appears as a commentator on numerous radio, television, print, and internet media sources regarding criminal law and procedure issues.

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