What Is the Difference Between Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault?

The terms “sexual abuse” and “sexual assault” are seen in news headlines at a concerning rate. However, it’s not always clear how these terms differ and what they imply. 

Sexual abuse and sexual assault actually refer to the same general action — the act of nonconsensual sexual activity forced upon another. One difference between the terms concerns who the victim usually is in the crime. Continue reading to learn more about what these two terms mean and how they differ.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can refer to any type of unwanted sexual activity between two people. Often, children are the victims of this type of activity, as they don’t understand that the things that are done to them by another person constitute abuse. They may be especially unlikely to understand that they were mistreated if the experience wasn’t painful or frightening. 

However, sexual abuse spans a broad range of sex crimes, and the victim need not be a child. Actions that fall under the term “sexual abuse” include: 

  • Rape or sodomy
  • Penetration with an object or fingers
  • Sexual touching
  • Revealing genitals to a child
  • Watching a child dress or bathe 
  • Showing a child pornography
  • Taking photos or videos of an undressed child
  • Encouraging children to engage in sexual activity

Sexual abuse usually describes an ongoing pattern of behavior rather than an isolated incident. 

Sexual Assault 

Unlike children, adults over the age of 18 can consent to sexual activity. Sexual behavior involving two willing adults is regarded as consensual sexual activity. When one adult does not consent, the result is sexual assault. 

This type of assault refers to a single incident rather than repeated incidents and always involves physical contact. Common examples of sexual assault can include:

  • Rape or sodomy
  • Oral sex 
  • Insertion
  • Touching or groping the breasts or genitals
  • Touching another’s body with the genitals

It’s important to note that the non-consenting adult does not need to physically fight off a perpetrator for the crime of sexual assault to take place. Some instances of sexual assault involve threatening or otherwise scaring the victim into submission. 

Other Common Examples of Sex Crimes

Many other types of sexual behavior involving adults can constitute a crime, even if they don’t meet the criteria for sexual assault. Some examples include: 

  • Taking non-consensual sexual videos or photos
  • Sharing another’s sexual images online
  • Using sexual images to blackmail or extort another
  • Sexual harassment

Many sex crimes are non-physical. Pursuing both criminal charges for the perpetrator and personal injury compensation through civil court is possible for the victim of a sex crime, even when physical contact did not occur. 

Taking Action After Sexual Assault or Abuse

If you believe you’ve been the victim of sexual assault, sexual abuse, or any other sex crime, you can report a perpetrator to the police. Sometimes, victims of sexual assault are reluctant to report the crime because they fear they won’t be believed or don’t have sufficient evidence. 

It’s always worth speaking to a lawyer to learn about your options for taking action over a sex crime. Victims of sexual assault or abuse can pursue compensation through civil court for the damage done to them. 

Time limits differ based on the type of case you pursue and the age at which the sex crime occurred, so it’s best to take action quickly.  

Contact Our Law Firm For Help Today

For more information, please contact Bradley Law Personal Injury Lawyers at your nearest location to schedule a free case evaluation today.

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