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Sexual Abuse vs Sexual Assault – Are These the Same?
Most jurisdictions say that sexual abuse and sexual assault are separate and distinct crimes. Sexual abuse is often used to describe sex offenses committed against minors. By contrast, sexual assault is a term used to describe sex acts committed against adults.
Some states also refer to the crime of rape as sexual assault.
While sexual abuse and sexual assault are both crimes that can result in jail or prison time (depending on whether charges are filed as misdemeanors or felonies), they can also serve as the basis for a civil lawsuit.
If a victim is successful in a civil suit, he/she can recover compensation for such items as:
lost wages, and
pain and suffering.
1. What is sexual abuse?
Most state laws use the term “sexual abuse” to refer to sex crimes performed against a minor, or a person under the age of consent.1
Sexual abuse offenders can be either adults or children older than the child sexual abuse victim.
Further, the sexual contact or sexual activity in these cases can include instances of:
kissing, touching, or fondling of the victim,2 and/or
child molestation, sexual intercourse, or statutory rape.3
Sexual abuse of a child can also involve sexual behavior where the offender:
causes the victim to expose or touch his/her own intimate parts,4 and/or
takes sexually explicit pictures or videos of a child (as in cases of child pornography).5
Note that these crimes often involve sexual misconduct by an offender over a period of time. Further, offenders will usually face tougher penalties if they are in a position of trust with respect to the victim (for example, a family member).
2. What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault typically refers to illegal sex acts performed against an adult victim.
Further, these acts are often sexual advances where an offender:
touches the intimate parts of another person,
does so against that person’s will, and
does so for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse.6
Note that these sex crimes do not necessarily require that the offender engages in actual sexual penetration or sexual intercourse.
Sexual assault is sometimes referred to as “sexual battery.”
Victims of sexual assault are encouraged to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (a service of RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673.
3. Can sexual assault include rape?
Yes. Some states say that sexual assault includes the crime of rape.
For example, under Arizona law, people are guilty of sexual assault if:
they intentionally and knowingly have sexual intercourse or oral sex with another person, and
do so without that person’s consent.7
Arizona law says that “sexual intercourse” is penetration into the penis, vulva, or anus by any part of the body or by any object or masturbatory contact with the penis or vulva.8
Instances of rape can involve acts of sexual violence or an offender using physical force to commit the crime.
4. Can victims of sexual assault or sexual abuse file a civil lawsuit?
Yes. Victims of sexual assault or sexual abuse have the ability to sue their perpetrators for damages.
Note that most types of sex crimes can serve as the basis for a civil lawsuit.
Note, too, that it is not necessary that the defendants in these cases be convicted of a crime prior to a suit or even charged with a crime. As long as the plaintiff has suffered damages as the result of a non-consensual sex act, he or she can file suit.
Victims of sexual assault may be entitled to both compensatory damages and punitive damages. Plaintiffs may seek to recover compensation for:
lost earning capacity,
pain and suffering (including traumatic stress),
loss of enjoyment of life,
emotional distress or trauma.
5. Can a criminal defense attorney help?
Yes. If you are facing charges of sexual abuse or sexual assault, you should contact a defense lawyer or sexual abuse attorney for help.
Defense attorneys often provide free consultations, which means you can receive legal advice at no cost.
Further, your communications with your lawyer are protected by the attorney-client relationship. This means your attorney cannot disclose your confidences without first getting your consent.