What Is the Difference Between Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault?

The terms “sexual abuse” and “sexual assault” are often used interchangeably in everyday discourse. However, when it comes to understanding these two terms in a criminal or civil legal setting, we need to differentiate between them. Typically, the term sexual abuse is used to describe something that happens to those under the age of 18. Sexual assault, on the other hand, is usually used to describe something that happens to an adult. Here, we want to delve a little bit further into the definitions of sexual abuse and sexual assault.

What is Sexual Abuse?

The term sexual abuse is most frequently applied to situations where a child is sexually assaulted or mistreated. It is rare for the term sexual abuse to be applied to adult victims of sexual assault.

All 50 states in the US have laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to a sex act. In California, the age of consent is 18. Even though there is no specific California statute that defines sexual “abuse” as a crime, there are various sexual assault laws written into the statutes that deal with sexual crimes committed against children under the age of 18.

There are a variety of crimes that could be considered sexual abuse, particularly when concerning minors. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 by a person over the age of 18. The age of consent in California is 18. This is often referred to as statutory rape.
  • Exposing oneself to a minor.
  • Any sexual contact, including fondling or intercourse with a minor.
  • Obscene messaging, including through text messages, social media, video messages, email, etc.
  • The production of child pornography.

What is Sexual Assault?

The definition of sexual assault can mean a variety of things, particularly in the state of California. This state has statutes related to rape and sexual assault that deal with both adults and children. However, when discussing sexual assault, as opposed to sexual abuse, you will generally find that situation surrounds sexual assault that has occurred to someone over the age of 18.

Just like with sexual abuse, there are a variety of crimes that could be considered sexual assault of an adult in California. This could include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Rape or spousal rape, which includes any non-consensual sexual contact with another individual.
  • Forcible acts of sexual penetration, which can include the penetration of genitals or the anus with objects other than sexual organs.
  • Forced oral copulation, including stimulation of the genitals or anus without consent.
  • Sexual battery, which is an offense under California statutes that includes touching the intimate parts of another person without consent.

What Should Survivors of Sexual Assault or Sexual Abuse Do?

If you or somebody you care about is a survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault and there is an ongoing emergency situation, or if you are injured, it is important to seek medical care immediately. In order to have the best chance of holding the perpetrator of the abuse accountable for their actions, you need to ensure that a sexual assault kit (commonly referred to as a rape kit) is completed at a medical facility. This will help gather blood samples and DNA evidence that could be used in the case.

You need to contact a skilled sexual assault or sexual abuse attorney in California who can help you through every step of this process. An attorney can help you through the potential civil claim you may have against the perpetrator of the abuse to help ensure that you recover closure and compensation for what happened.

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