Featured / 12.21.2023

Understanding Sexual Assault vs. Aggravated Sexual Assault

What the Differences Are and How Each Can Affect a Victim’s Case

Sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault are two very serious crimes that are often confused. While both involve non-consensual sexual activity, there are notable differences between their legal definitions and the severity of the charges. Understanding these differences is essential for both victims and those accused of these serious crimes.

If you have been accused of a sex crime, it is crucial to speak with an attorney right away. The consequences can be severe and life-changing, so it is important to take immediate action to protect your rights. Contact the Bloomington criminal defense lawyers at JP Law Office today to learn more.

What Is Considered Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a broad term that refers to any form of non-consensual sexual contact or activity. This can range from unwanted touching to rape. The key factor in identifying sexual assault is the lack of consent from the victim. It's important to note that a victim’s consent must be freely given and can be withdrawn at any time.

Sexual assault is considered a very serious crime and is strictly punished in Illinois. However, the exact penalties vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Generally, sexual assault convictions can result in significant fines, lengthy jail time, and a criminal record.

Aggravated Sexual Assault Is a More Severe Crime

Aggravated sexual assault is a more severe form of sexual assault. It typically involves factors that increase the gravity of the offense. These factors include the following:

  • Use of a dangerous weapon
  • Infliction of bodily harm
  • Threatening the victim’s life
  • The victim was over the age of 60
  • The victim was physically or mentally handicapped
  • Drugs were used before or during the assault
  • A firearm was discharged during the assault
  • A firearm was discharged, causing great bodily harm
  • Commission of a co-occurring felony

The penalties for aggravated sexual assault are significantly more severe than for sexual assault. They can include steeper fines, longer prison sentences, and more stringent conditions upon release. 

The Key Differences Between Sexual Assault and Aggravated Sexual Assault

In summary, there are three main differences between the two offenses:

Severity of the Assault

Aggravated sexual assault typically involves more coercive or violent behavior than sexual assault.

Aggravating Factors

The use of a weapon, targeting vulnerable victims, or causing serious injury to a victim are factors that can elevate a sexual assault to an aggravated sexual assault.


Aggravated sexual assault typically carries harsher penalties, including steeper fines and longer prison sentences. 

What Are the Penalties?

Those convicted of either of these crimes face the following penalties under Illinois law.

Sexual assault is a Class 1 Felony and can carry penalties that include:

  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Fines up to $15,000
  • Mandatory registration as a sex offender

Aggravated sexual assault is a Class X Felony and can carry penalties that include:

  • Up to 30 years in prison
  • Fines up to $25,000
  • Mandatory registration as a sex offender

Sexual Assault Defenses

Due to the harsh penalties that can occur upon conviction, the accused will need a strong defense. The following are two common defenses used in both sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault cases.

The Accused Was Mistakenly Identified as the Perpetrator

A criminal defense attorney can claim that the victim misidentified the defendant as the perpetrator. They can also challenge eyewitness accounts by showing inconsistencies.

An attorney can also seek to suppress evidence that was gathered improperly. For example, an attorney can challenge police lineups that swayed a witness into choosing their client.

Additionally, a defendant’s lawyer can use DNA evidence to establish whether the accused was present at the scene of the sexual assault.

The Victim Consented to the Act

One of the key elements in sexual assault cases is that the sexual act must have taken place without the alleged victim's consent. If the defendant’s attorney can show the victim consented to the sexual act, they have a strong defense.

However, establishing consent can be challenging. Defendants are often unable to provide evidence of consent without testifying, leaving them subject to cross-examination. 

Contact JP Law Office to Learn More

Knowing the differences between sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault is crucial for those accused to understand the charges they face. When facing either charge, seeking legal guidance from a qualified criminal defense attorney is essential.

If you have been accused of sexual assault, contact the JP Law Office. Our criminal defense lawyers in Bloomington, IL, know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system and will take immediate measures to protect your legal rights and fight the charges against you. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential case review.

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