What Is the Difference Between Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault?

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are two different types of sex crimes under California law. When prosecuted in the criminal court or claimed in the civil court, the nuances between these two terms are critical. Learning the difference between sexual abuse and sexual assault can help you better understand your case as a survivor of either type of sex crime in Los Angeles.

What Is Sexual Abuse?

In most states, sexual abuse is a term reserved for sex crimes committed against children and minors. It is phrased this way because sex crimes against children often continue over a period of time, creating a pattern of prolonged abuse.

Sexual abuse often involves grooming, or building a relationship with a child to abuse or exploit him or her. Any sexual contact with a minor, even if the minor consents, is a crime. In California, a minor cannot lawfully give his or her consent to sexual activities. Sexual abuse in California can refer to many specific crimes, including:

  • Exposure of one’s sexual organs (or a female’s breasts) to a minor
  • Masturbation in the presence of a minor
  • Sexual fondling of a minor (child molestation)
  • Sending obscene messages to a minor
  • Sex trafficking
  • Child pornography
  • Rape or statutory rape

The signs of sexual abuse in a minor can be physical, behavioral and/or emotional. The signs may include unexplained injuries or bruises, strange or inappropriate relationships with an adult, fear, guilt or shame, outbursts, unusual knowledge of sexual subjects, withdrawal from favorite activities, nightmares, regression, and sexually transmitted diseases.

What Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a sex crime committed against an adult victim. It is often used to describe a one-time event rather than ongoing sexual abuse. Sexual assault is similar to sexual abuse in that it describes unwanted or nonconsensual sexual contact between a perpetrator and a victim. In California, the law refers to sexual assault as sexual battery.

Someone might be guilty of sexual battery in California if he or she commits any of the following acts:

  • Unwanted or inappropriate touching or kissing
  • Forced sexual contact
  • Sexual contact under coercion, duress or intoxication
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts
  • Touching a victim’s genitalia or a female’s breasts
  • Unlawful restraint
  • Rape or sodomy

Sexual abuse is a type of sexual assault in California. Sexual assault, however, may not qualify as sexual abuse depending on the situation. According to California Penal Code Section 243.4, the penalties for the crime of sexual battery include a fine of $2,000 to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to four years.

What To Do After Sexual Abuse or Sexual Assault

Following an incident of sexual abuse or sexual assault, seek medical care. Going to a hospital can help you treat any physical injuries as well as gather DNA evidence against the perpetrator using a sexual assault forensic exam. Report the assault or abuse right away. Even telling a friend or family member can help you build a case against the perpetrator later.

Next, contact a sexual abuse attorney in Los Angeles. If you or someone you love is a survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault, you have legal rights. A lawyer can help you gather evidence against a perpetrator and bring a civil claim in pursuit of financial compensation for your medical bills, lost quality of life, pain and suffering, and other damages.

California lawmakers recently changed the state’s statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse now have until age 40 to come forward with civil claims and hold perpetrators accountable. A plaintiff’s attorney in LA can give you the legal advice and information you need. Your lawyer will keep your information confidential and protect your identity during the claims process, if desired.