The definition of assault varies by jurisdiction, but is generally defined as intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. Physical injury is not required.
In the context of assault, the victim's "apprehension" happens if the victim believes that the tortfeasor's conduct will result in imminent harmful or offensive contact unless it is prevented.
It is not necessary that the victim believes the conduct will be effective in making such contact, only that the victim believes the conduct is capable of making such contact.
In an act of physical violence by one person against another, "assault" is usually paired with battery. In an act of physical violence, assault refers to the act which causes the victim to apprehend imminent physical harm, while battery refers to the actual act causing the physical harm.
Aggravated assault refers to an assault with an additional aggravating circumstance. As such, the liability and sentencing for aggravated assault is generally more severe than that for an ordinary assault.
The prima facie case for "assault" has 3 components:
- The defendant acts
- The defendant intends to cause the victim to apprehend imminent harmful contact from the defendant
- The defendant's action causes the victim to reasonably apprehend such a contact
For more on assault, see this Loyola Law School Law Review article, this ABA article, and this William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law article.