Sexual abuse is generally defined as any sexual act with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade another person. State laws concerning criminal sexual abuse vary according to whether the victim of the abuse is an adult or a minor. Child sexual abuse is most commonly referred to as child molestation, while adult sexual abuse is often referred to as rape or aggravated sexual assault.

A person has committed sexual abuse when:

  • They cause another person to engage in any sexual act by threatening or causing fear in that other person; or
  • They engage in a sexual act with another person who is incapable of comprehending the exact nature of that conduct, or is physically incapable of communicating their unwillingness to engage in a sexual act.

Sexual assault is defined as any sexual activity that occurs without the clear and uncoerced consent of all parties involved. Sexual assault is a crime in every state, and forbids sexual activity with any person unable to consent. People who are mentally ill, under the age of eighteen, or intoxicated are all considered to be unable to consent to sexual activities.

There are several acts that constitute sexual assault, and include but are not limited to:

  • Rape;
  • Molestation;
  • Forced sodomy; and
  • Incest.

In some states, such as Texas, the specific term sexual abuse is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against children. The term sexual assault is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against adults.

What Is the Difference Between Sexual Abuse of a Minor and Statutory Rape?

As previously mentioned, sexual abuse and assault ofenses are categorized according to the age of the victim. Sexual crimes against children are categorized differently from sexual crimes against adults.

A person commits sexual abuse of a minor when the minor is between the ages of twelve and sixteen years old, and the accused is at least four years older than that minor. The prosecution is not generally required to prove that the abuser was aware of the minor’s age, or that the required age difference existed between the abuser and the victim. If the sexual contact occurred with a child under the age of twelve, the maximum allowable punishment is doubled in most states.

A person may be guilty of child molestation if they commit any “lewd or lascivious” act upon or with the body of a child, with the intent to arouse, appeal, or gratify lust, passion, or sexual desires. Those convicted of child sexual abuse may be subject to the following consequences:

  • Imprisonment;
  • Being placed on a sexual offender registration;
  • Loss of right to vote; and/or
  • Mandatory AIDS testing.

Statutory rape occurs when a person engages in sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent. The statutory age of consent varies from state to state, but in general, is sixteen or eighteen years old. Some states may also have age qualifications for the perpetrator.

Statutory rape is a strict liability crime. This means that the consent of the younger person or any mistake regarding their age is not a defense to the crime of statutory rape. Once again, the age of consent may vary by state.

What Are Some Other Classifications of Sexual Abuse?

Most states define incest as sexual relations with a close family member. A person has committed incest when they engage in sexually inappropriate acts with a family member or extended family member. The perpetrator abuses their authority or an ongoing emotional bond with their relative in order to accomplish this. What constitutes a close family member may vary by state, but generally includes parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews.

Aggravated sexual abuse occurs when a person uses force against the victim, or threatens the victim causing them to fear death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping. This type of abuse may also occur when a person knowingly renders the victim unconscious then proceeds to engage in sexual acts.

An additional example of aggravated sexual abuse includes administering a drug or intoxicant to a person without their consent, which impairs the victim’s ability to control their conduct, then proceeds to engage in sexual acts with the victim.

Indecent exposure is often referred to as lewd and lascivious behavior, as previously mentioned. It is the crime of displaying genitalia to one or more people in a public place, generally with the intent to shock the viewer and attain sexual arousal. Voyeurism involves observing unsuspecting individuals while they are either naked, disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity for the purposes of seeking sexual excitement.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a Sexual Abuse Case?

Sexual abuse and assault are very serious crimes. If you have been accused of rape, child molestation, or some other type of sexual abuse you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. An attorney can discuss your legal options and your legal rights, as well as represent you in court.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse, you should begin by calling the police. Once there is sufficient evidence, the police will forward your case to the district attorney in order to prosecute the person who committed the sexual abuse against you.