Attorney at Law

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.

Ask a Lawyer

Ask your own question and get advice from expert attorneys
Ask Question

Featured Sexual Assault Lawyers

Law Office of Salvatore Ciulla

38 years in practice
Criminal Defense, Domestic Violence, DUI Law, Sexual Assault
View Profile

Horn Wright, LLP

28 years in practice
Employment Law, Personal Injury, Sexual Assault
View Profile

The Law Firm of Frank Stanley, PC

45 years in practice
Criminal Defense, Sexual Assault
View Profile

Law Office of Scott Herlihy

27 years in practice
Alimony, At-Fault Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Divorce & Family Law
View Profile

RYTELAW-Payman Bafekr, Esq.

1 years in practice
Auto Accidents, Bad Faith Insurance, Bicycle Accidents, Contract Law, Insurance Law
View Profile

Issa Law, LLC

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


Are you looking for an attorney? Do you have questions about a legal case you are facing? Contact us now and we will put you in touch with a lawyer for free.

Related Posts

Intimate Parts
Daisy RogozinskyJanuary 23, 2023
Female Genital Mutilation
Daisy RogozinskyFebruary 6, 2023
Sexual Assault Forensic Exam
Daisy RogozinskyJanuary 8, 2023
Sexual Consent
Daisy RogozinskyJanuary 8, 2023
Attorney At Law is changing how clients connect with lawyers. By providing an innovative platform to lawyers who want to expand their practice’s reach, AAL is bringing law practices into the future.
6142 Innovation Way
Carlsbad, California 92009
Some of the content of this website may be considered attorney advertising under the rules of certain jurisdictions. The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.
crossmenuchevron-upchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram