Your Guide to Understanding Online Sexual Assault

In the age of technology, sexual perpetrators have new means of finding, grooming, targeting, exploiting and assaulting victims. Digital sexual abuse activities such as messages, comments or explicit images can have an immense impact on a victim’s life. Learn more about online sexual assault to understand your legal rights as a victim in California.

What Is Online Sexual Assault?

Online sexual assault can refer to any form of sexual harassment, abuse, exploitation or grooming that takes place through the internet or a digital platform. It can refer to nonconsensual sexually explicit messages sent electronically through email, text message, instant message, private message or social media interactions. This includes sexualized comments, slut-shaming and the sharing of explicit images, such as nude photographs, child pornography, revenge porn or links to explicit videos.

Online sexual assault can be extremely damaging. Victims may feel threatened, afraid, ashamed, guilty or violated by the incident. They may suffer immense mental, emotional and psychological distress, which can interfere with their ability to enjoy daily life. They may also experience significant harm to their reputations or even lose their jobs due to sexualized comments or photographs connected to them online.

Online Sexual Assault at School

Online sexual assault (including cyberbullying in California) in school can lead to low self-esteem, mental health disorders, decreased school performance and even suicidal tendencies in students. Children who suffer online sexual abuse, harassment or sexualized cyberbullying from their peers may avoid going to school or turn to substance abuse to cope with their feelings. This can have a lasting impact on the victim’s life and future.

Is Online Sexual Assault a Crime?

The laws regarding online sexual assault vary across states and jurisdictions. However, many places have begun to recognize the importance of addressing digital and electronic sexual offenses and have implemented laws to hold perpetrators accountable. California, for example, has an electronic cyber harassment law under Penal Code Section 653.2.

This state law makes it a crime to electronically distribute digital information or images of another person, as well as send an electronic message of a harassing nature about another person, with intent to place the victim in reasonable fear for his or her safety (or the safety of family members) or for the purpose of causing the victim unwanted physical contact, injury or harassment.

Can You Sue for Online Sexual Assault?

Under state law, online sexual assault can lead to a misdemeanor charge, punishable with up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. An offender can also be held civilly liable, or responsible, for harm suffered by the victim. An injured party has the right to file a sexual abuse civil lawsuit, which could lead to financial compensation for the victim’s monetary losses, pain and suffering, medical bills, emotional distress, and more.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on an Online Sexual Assault Case?

A law known as the statute of limitations gives online sexual assault victims a specific deadline by which they must file a claim. The statute of limitations on child sexual assault cases in California is until the victim turns 40 years old or five years from discovering the abuse – whichever is later. Adult online sexual abuse cases have a deadline of 10 years from the date of the last incident or 3 years from the date of discovery, whichever is later.

Don’t wait. Contact a Los Angeles online sexual assault attorney at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi for a free and confidential consultation about a potential case.