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Defining Sex Crimes: Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Abuse

In 2019, an estimated 459,310 people in the US were victims of sex crimes by either rape or sexual assault. If on point, this would mean that such sexual crimes have decreased by 37% from the year before. The estimated number of rape or sexual victims back in 2018 was at a high of 734,630.

459,310 victims are still 459,310 too many, though. Worse, it doesn’t even include victims of sexual abuse or sexual harassment.

Now, all these are horrendous crimes, but they do have different legal definitions.

To that end, we came up with this guide differentiating sexual abuse vs. sexual assault. Read on to discover what they are and what they entail.

What Are Sex Crimes?

Sex crimes are illegal or forced sexual activities made against another person. It can either be forcible, which includes rape and sexual assault. It can also be non-forcible, which may constitute obscenity or indecent exposure.

All states enforce severe punishments on sex criminals, otherwise known as “sex offenders.” State laws vary, but most sex crimes are punishable by lengthy imprisonment terms.

Charged sex offenders must also complete sex offender registration and notification (SORN). Failure to do so is also punishable with imprisonment of no less than one year.

What Is Sexual Assault?

The Department of Justice defines “sexual assault” as any non-consensual sexual act. These include acts against an individual who doesn’t have the ability to give consent. An example is a patient in a comatose condition.

Sexual assault can occur even in married households or cohabitating couples. So long as the other person gets forced, that can already constitute sexual assault.

Rape is a form of sexual assault, but sexual assault can still occur even without penetration. As such, the act of unwanted touching or groping can classify as sexual assault. It can also include non-consensual fondling and even verbal threats.

What Is Sexual Abuse?

You may have read some news of sexual abuse victims suing abusers decades after the abuse took place. Some are about the Boy Scouts, while many others are clergy abuse lawsuits. Names like Bill Crosby, Larry Nassar, and Jeffrey Epstein have also filled headlines.

All the above are defendants in cases of child sexual abuse. That’s because “sexual abuse” is primarily used to describe sex crimes against children.

All 50 US states have sexual abuse laws in place to protect children. That’s because they recognize that minors aren’t capable of providing informed sexual consent. The age range varies, but the youngest at which a child can give informed consent is 16 years.

Sexual abuse can be a forcible or non-forcible sex crime. This means that it doesn’t need to involve penetration. It can already occur if the perpetrator forces them to look at sexual body parts.

Sex Crimes Are Traumatic Regardless of Severity

Even the most minor sex crimes, such as obscenity, can already be traumatic to victims. The deleterious effects are even more profound in sexual abuse and assault victims. As such, if you or anyone you know is a victim of such acts, get in touch with a sexual assault lawyer ASAP.

You may also get in touch with the National Sexual Assault Hotline for immediate support.

If you’d like to learn more about sexual crimes, please feel free to check our site’s Law section. You’ll find other civil and criminal law guides there.

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