Sentencing guidelines for sexual assault

Jason Morrison

About half of all sexual crimes go unpunished, according to the FBI Crime Report. Of those that are reported and prosecuted, 54 per cent end in an acquittal or dismissal. Because the types and degrees of sexual assault vary widely, sentencing guidelines are complicated and sometimes arbitrary.

In many cases, two people convicted of the same type of sexual crime will receive vastly different sentences because of the circumstances surrounding the case.

General sentencing

Sexual assault rarely involves sentences of more than 10 years unless there's aggravated circumstances, such as attempted murder or the abuse of a minor, especially if physical injuries were caused beyond the rape itself.

Rehabilitation possibilities

Sentences are shorter for offenders who have a chance of rehabilitation and agree to participate in a programme, which usually includes therapy, community service, monitoring programmes and adherence to supervision/registration systems.


The amount of evidence available in a case sometimes affects the length of sentencing. When there's hard evidence of past assaults, such as photographs or e-mails, sentences might be longer, while inadmissible incriminating statements or plea bargains might result in reduced sentences.


Sentences longer than a year and a day are to be served in state prisons, while shorter sentences are served in county jails.

Life Sentences

Sexual offenders who are considered predatory and are convicted of more than two separate cases of sexual assault can receive a maximum of a life sentence. This is known as the "two-strike provision" and is more common in violent rapes or rape/homicides. It is also used in cases of sexual assault against minors.