Throughout this knowledge module, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice.

Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/14963/16865/206, and 67/176 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

Other Provisions Related to Domestic Violence LawsResources for Developing Legislation on Domestic Violence
Sexual Harassment in Sport Tools for Drafting Sexual Harassment Laws and Policies
Immigration Provisions Resources for developing legislation on sex trafficking of women and girls
Child Protection Provisions Resources on Forced and Child Marriage
Other provisions related to dowry-related and domestic violence laws
Related Tools

Definition of sexual assault and other elements

Last edited: January 08, 2011

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The definition of sexual assault should state that:

  • It is an act of physical or sexual violence against a person.
  • It occurred without the consent of the person. See section on Consent.
  • It is a violation of a person’s bodily integrity and sexual autonomy.

For example, the Criminal Code (1974) of Papua New Guinea states that:

1) A person who, without a person’s consent –

(a) touches, with any part of his body, the sexual parts of that other person; o
(b) compels another person to touch, with any part of this body, the sexual parts of the accused person’s own body, is guilty of a crime of sexual assault. Sec. 349

  • Proof of force is not required. See Element of force, below.
  • Proof of penetration is not required.

For example, the Penal Code (2004) of Turkey has two categories of offences against sexual integrity; one that does not involve penetration and one that does:

Offences against Sexual Integrity; Sexual assault

ARTICLE 102– (1) The perpetrator who violates the physical integrity of another person by means of sexual conduct shall be imprisoned for a term of two to seven years upon the complaint of the victim.

(2) Where the act is committed by means of inserting an organ or a similar object to the body, the perpetrator shall be imprisoned for a term of seven to twelve years.”

CASE STUDY: Prosecutor v. Akayesu (1998) broadens definition of sexual violence.

In Prosecutor v. Akayesu (1998), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) convicted a Rwandan official, on the basis of his actions and failure to act in his official capacity of mass rape, forced public nudity, and sexual mutilation of Tutsi women.

The ICTR broadened the definition of rape beyond that found in the national laws, and offered this comprehensive definition of sexual violence: “…any act of a sexual nature which is committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive.  Sexual violence is not limited to physical invasion of the human body and may include acts which do not involve penetration or even physical contact.” Para. 688

Element of force

Legislation on sexual assault should not include a requirement of force or violence. A separate provision should address rape with force. See Aggravating circumstances below.

Mitigating factors

Legislation should clarify that it is no defense that the perpetrator believed that the survivor was not a minor; it is no defense that an underage person consented; and it is no defense that the perpetrator was intoxicated. (See: Model Strategies 7(e), p. 34.)

False declarations of sexual assault

Legislation should not include a provision criminalizing the false declaration of a rape or sexual assault. Such provisions provide strong disincentives for victims to report the crime. In addition, some states may then accuse the victim of extra-marital sexual conduct. False allegations are commonly dealt with in other areas of a state’s legislation. (See:  Gender-Based Violence Laws in Sub-Saharan Africa, p. 43)