Whether you are the victim of assault, assault and battery, or aggravated assault, you need to know how to recognize it and what to do.

Assault is generally described as an intentional attempt to injure another person, although the definition of assault will differ from state to state. You should refer to the laws of your state for guidance on how your assault case might be classified. There are various categories of assault and sub-categories within those, although some states recognize the different levels of harm that assaults can cause by classifying assaults in order of seriousness. First degree is the most serious, second degree is less serious, and third degree is the least serious.

Simple Assault

The first thing to be aware of is that you do not need to be physically injured or suffer bodily harm in order to be the victim of assault. Depending on the circumstances, threats or threatening behavior can also constitute assault. The act of threatening you verbally may not be enough to constitute an assault unless the offender backs it up with actions that put you in reasonable fear of imminent harm; this is because courts are aware that in the heat of the moment, people make empty threats.

The crime of assault occurs when the offender intends to hurt the victim, threatens or attempts to do so, and appears to have the ability to carry out the threat or attempt. You must become reasonably afraid of suffering imminent bodily harm in order for the offender to have committed assault. In this type of assault, the crime is the act of making the victim afraid, and the fear felt by the victim must be that of a reasonable person in a similar situation.

If the offender attempts to cause or knowingly/recklessly causes bodily injury to you, they are guilty of simple assault. This is so even if the offender did not intend to cause harm to you in particular. As long as that offender acts in a way that is considered dangerous to other people, they can be charged with assault.

Assault and Battery

The crime of battery is committed when an offender either injures you or makes contact in an offensive manner. Contact is unnecessary for a crime of assault, but for a crime of battery, offensive or illegal contact must have taken place, and in fact assault is sometimes described as attempted battery. Many states combine the crime of battery with that of assault, and you may note references in your state to the single crime of assault and battery.

Aggravated Assault

An offender who attempts to cause, or knowingly/recklessly causes you serious bodily injury—under circumstances showing a careless disregard for your welfare—is guilty of aggravated assault. It is classed as a felony and may involve an assault committed with a weapon or with the intent to commit a serious crime such as rape. It will be possible to get what would have been a simple assault case upgraded to an aggravated assault case if you fall within a particular class of individuals such as firefighters, police officers and teachers acting in accordance with your employment.

What should I do if I've been assaulted?

Whichever category of assault that you have been affected by, you should consider taking the following action as appropriate:

  • If you have suffered physical injuries, these should be photographed.
  • If you are the victim of a serious assault, such as rape, you should not shower or bathe, as you may destroy crucial evidence; however, you should report it to the police.
  • Visit your medical practitioner or a hospital, preferably accompanied by a close friend or relative, and ask for a medical assessment to be carried out as soon as possible. A doctor's report, together with photographs of the injury, can be important evidence.
  • If the assault occurred on someone’s premises, the owner or their representative should be formally notified.
  • A written record of the assault and the circumstances leading up to the assault should be made as quickly as possible, even if you have no physical injuries.
  • Report all injuries (however minor), because the lasting consequences of a physical or mental injury may only become evident later. Assault can be a traumatic experience, and you should not keep quiet and hope that the effects will just go away. If they do not go away, you will be left to deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Report the incident to the police. You may be reluctant to do this, but it is an important step to take, particularly if you intend to seek compensation.
  • If, for any reason, you do not wish to report the matter to the police, you should at least consult a pro bono adviser in your state that will be able to refer you to free counseling or legal advice.
  • Consult an attorney with the intention of filing a civil suit for damages caused by the assault, including mental distress. Your attorney will be able to assist with gathering evidence and locating witnesses—if there are any.

Assault is a crime; depending on the facts, the applicable state law, and the prosecuting attorney’s assessment of the case, an assault prosecution can be quite complex. You need to ensure that you have provided the law enforcement authorities with all of the information that they need in order to achieve a satisfactory outcome on your behalf.