Sexual battery is intentional physical contact with the intimate parts of another person’s body without their consent.
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In Georgia, sexual battery offenses are prosecuted in three separate ways: misdemeanor sexual battery for offenses committed against adults, felony sexual battery for offenses committed against minors, and aggravated sexual battery for offenses involving actual penetration.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. §16-6-22.1, sexual battery constitutes intentional physical contact with the intimate parts of another person’s body without the consent of that person. Intimate parts include the primary genital area, groin, inner thighs, anus, buttocks, and the breasts of a female. Sexual battery against a victim who is under the age of 16 years is punishable as a felony. Otherwise, it is a misdemeanor offense.
Consent is an affirmative defense. In sexual battery cases, there can be significant questions about what constitutes consent or refusal. However, there is a standard for determining whether consent was present.
In Georgia, it has traditionally been held that a child under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual acts. As a result, in cases involving sexual battery allegations, the State was not required to prove the child’s lack of consent. At trial, the jury would be instructed that the victim’s lack of consent was established by virtue of the child being under the age of 16.
This rule was challenged by the defense in the case of State v. Watson. The Supreme Court held that, despite its title, the offense of sexual battery was not actually a sexual offense as it does not require sexual contact at all. All that the statute requires is physical contact with the victim’s intimate body parts.
The Court reasoned that the language of the sexual battery statute has the potential to criminalize a “wide range of apparently innocent conduct,” such as “acts commonly occurring on an athletic field or school playground, contacts attendant to a physician’s breast examination on a 15-year-old patient, and even the act of changing a baby’s diaper.”
The Court concluded that if the State was not required to prove that the act was committed without the child’s consent, these everyday activities could potentially be subject to criminal liability. As a result, the Court held that in any sexual battery prosecution, actual proof of the victim’s lack of consent would be required, regardless of the victim’s age.