Criminal sexual abuse is any sexual act committed with the intent to do any of the following to another individual:

  • Abuse; 
  • Harass; 
  • Humiliate, or 
  • Degrade. 

The laws regarding criminal sexual abuse vary by state and are heavily dependent on the definitions contained within the statutes of that state. State laws will often differentiate based on the age of the victim. For example, if a child is sexually abused, the crime is typically classified as child molestation. However, when an adult has been sexually abused, the law will typically refer to the crime as either aggravated sexual abuse or rape.

There are three common types of sexual abuse that occur, including:

  • Child sexual abuse;
  • Rape; and
  • Aggravated sexual abuse.

The majority of states classify child sexual abuse dependent on the age of the victim. An individual may be guilty of child sexual abuse, or child molestation when they engage in a sexual activity with a minor with the intent to arouse, appeal, or gratify their sexual desires.

An individual may be guilty of rape if they engage in an act of intercourse against the will of the victim through means involving:

  • Force;
  • Violence;
  • Duress;
  • Intimidation; or
  • Fear of serious bodily harm.

An individual may also commit the crime of statutory rape when they engage in sexual intercourse with an individual under the age of 18, even if the victim gave consent. The statutory age requirement varies by state, usually anywhere between 16 to 18 years of age). Some states also have laws regarding the age of the perpetrator.

An individual may be guilty of aggravated sexual abuse if the act involved any of the following special circumstances:

  • A weapon is used during the crime;
  • The victim is over 60 years of age;
  • The victim is physically or mentally incompetent and lack the ability to consent, such as an individual with dementia;
  • The offender behaves in a way that is meant to threaten or endanger the victim or any other individual if they do not comply; and
  • Statutory rape of a family member.

It is important to note that guidelines will change in accordance with each state’s specific laws. If an individual is a victim or has been charged with a sexual abuse crime, it is essential to contact a local attorney immediately to determine the local laws.

What are the Criminal Penalties for Sexual Abuse Convictions?

As previously discussed, laws regarding sexual abuse crimes vary by state. Criminal penalties for these crimes may also vary by state. An individual who is convicted of child sexual abuse or molestation may face the following consequences:

  • A prison sentence;
  • Registering as a sex offender;
  • Losing the right to vote;
  • Losing child custody;
  • Paying a heavy criminal fine; or
  • Attending required sex offender treatment programs.

If the crime is classified as a misdemeanor, an individual who is convicted may face:

  • Up to one year in jail;
  • Criminal fines of up to $1,000 in most states;
  • Other punishments, such as community service; or
  • Other punishments as prescribed in that specific state.

If the crime is classified as a felony, an individual who is convicted may face:

  • Over a year in prison up to life in prison;
  • Hefty criminal fines; 
  • Loss of privileges including voting and gun ownership; or
  • Other punishments as prescribed in that specific state.

Convictions for sex-related crimes may require an individual to register as a sex offender. This requires the individual to prove their personal information to a state or national database. This information may include:

  • Their address;
  • Employment information; and
  • Physical markers such as tattoos or scars.

Sex offender databases are accessible to the public, and individuals search for those registered by name. Most states have different levels with different time requirements for the registry. A less serious offense may require ten years on the list, while the most serious require lifetime registration.

What Should I Do if I am Charged with Criminal Sexual Abuse?

Being charged with criminal sexual abuse is a very serious matter that can have very serious consequences. It is essential to seek the help of an attorney immediately. An attorney will advise an individual regarding the local laws and how to proceed with their case.

Are There Any Defenses to Criminal Sexual Abuse? 

There are some defenses that may be available in criminal sexual abuse cases. One such defense is consent. Consent may be shown through an individual’s words or actions. It is important to note that being married does not provide consent. An individual can be sexually assaulted by their spouse.

Another possible defense may be insanity or diminished mental capacity. These mental states may relieve an individual from liability for their actions because they were not aware of what they were doing. This defense is difficult to prove. It may also lead to an individual being committed to a treatment facility.

What if I am a Victim of Criminal Sexual Abuse?

If an individual is a victim of any type of sexual assault or any other incident that involving sexual abuse, the individual should contact law enforcement immediately. Once law enforcement has been notified, they will conduct an investigation to determine if sufficient evidence exists to submit the case to the local district attorney’s office for review. If the district attorney’s office determines enough evidence exists, they will prosecute the perpetrator.

An individual may also bring a civil lawsuit against the individual who committed the crime. They will need to contact a local lawyer for sexually abused victims who has experience in handling cases that involve victims of abuse or sex crimes, such as a personal injury lawyer.

Civil penalties differ from criminal penalties. They also differ in each jurisdiction. Civil penalties include monetary damages paid to the victim. 

Are There Differences Between States in How Long a Victim Has to File a Case or Press Charges?

Yes, the statute of limitations may vary by state. A statute of limitations is a time limit in which an individual can file a lawsuit or press charges against the perpetrator. The purpose of this is to prevent the spoilage of evidence. Many states, however, are lifting the statute of limitations on sexual assault charges. 

Should I Hire a Lawyer if I Need Help with Sexual Assault Charges? 

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced criminal law attorney for any sexual assault issues. Attorneys for sexual abuse cases can help both a victim or an accused individual. 

If you were a victim of sexual assault, you should report it to law enforcement immediately. You should also contact an attorney regarding the possibility of a civil lawsuit. You can prevail in a civil suit even if there is not enough evidence for a criminal conviction.

If you are accused to sexual assault, your first step should be to contact an attorney. The consequences of a conviction in these cases can be extreme and may affect all aspects of your life, even future employment. You may also be required to register as a sex offender. An attorney can review your case, advise you of your rights, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.