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Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse has several different working definitions in law. In this article, we review three different ways sexual abuse can be defined. 

Key Takeaways

  • One definition of sexual abuse is an umbrella term for any illegal sexual conduct, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape
  • Another definition of sexual abuse is repeated sexual assault over a prolonged period by the same perpetrator(s)
  • A third definition of sexual abuse is sexual crimes against minors
  • Sexual abuse is both a civil and criminal offense

What Is Sexual Abuse?

There are several working definitions of the term sexual abuse. 

Sexual Abuse as an Umbrella Term

One definition of sexual abuse is a general category referring to any illegal or coerced sexual conduct with another individual. This category includes but is not limited to:

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct on the basis of a person’s sex. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is illegal in the workplace when it creates a hostile work environment, or if it results in adverse employment actions for the victim. 

Sexual assault is defined as any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks the capacity to consent. Depending on the state, people may lack the ability to consent if they are physically disabled, unconscious, intoxicated, vulnerable, underage, or if the perpetrator was in a position of authority over the victim at the time of the crime. 

Rape is a more specific type of sexual assault, defined as the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person.

Indecent exposure is defined as public exposure of intimate areas in a way that is likely to offend or alarm. The exact definition of “intimate areas” varies from state to state.

Sexual Abuse as Prolonged Sexual Assault

Another definition of sexual abuse is a series of acts of sexual assault committed by a single perpetrator or group of perpetrators over a prolonged period.

Child Sexual Abuse

Finally, a third definition of sexual abuse, according to the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), is “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”

Sexual Abuse Law

Sexual abuse is both a civil and criminal offense. Civil legal actions will primarily aim to establish the liability of the crime in order to compensate the victim for their loss. These cases use a lower standard of proof called preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the plaintiff must prove that their version of events is most likely what happened.

Criminal legal actions aim to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence in order to punish the perpetrator of the crime. These cases use a more strict standard of proof called beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that hat the jury must be nearly certain that a defendant is guilty in order to issue a guilty verdict.

Victims of sexual abuse interested in pursuing legal action against their abusers are encouraged to speak to an experienced lawyer.

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Featured Sexual Assault Lawyers

Law Office of Salvatore Ciulla

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38 years in practice
Criminal Defense, Domestic Violence, DUI Law, Sexual Assault
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Horn Wright, LLP

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28 years in practice
Employment Law, Personal Injury, Sexual Assault
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The Law Firm of Frank Stanley, PC

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45 years in practice
Criminal Defense, Sexual Assault
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Law Office of Scott Herlihy

27 years in practice
Alimony, At-Fault Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Divorce & Family Law
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RYTELAW-Payman Bafekr, Esq.

1 years in practice
Auto Accidents, Bad Faith Insurance, Bicycle Accidents, Contract Law, Insurance Law
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Issa Law, LLC

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13 years in practice
Auto Accidents, Bicycle Accidents, Criminal Defense, DUI Law, Motorcycle Accidents
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