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If you have been charged with a sexual offense, the first thing to do is understand the charges so you can respond accordingly.

While laws vary by state, sexual assault generally refers to a crime in which the offender subjects the victim to unwanted sexual touching of some kind. Sexual abuse includes similar acts, but the victim is a child rather than an adult.

Keep reading to understand more about the differences between a sexual abuse and assault charge.

Sexual Assault

The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”

Under this definition, child molestation, sexual intercourse, incest, attempted rape, forcible sodomy, and fondling are all acts of assault when the recipient does not consent.

Assault of a sexual nature can be a violent or unexpected act. The law considers it to be traumatic in all cases. Sometimes, it is a single, life-threatening event or series of events.

Sexual assault is ANY unwanted sex act or behavior that is violent, threatening, forced, or coercive. It is ANY act for which the person did not give consent or could not give consent.

Examples of Assault

Some examples include, but are not limited to, putting a penis, another part of the body, or object into someone’s mouth, vagina, or anus.

It includes forcing someone to perform or receive oral sex. The law defines oral sex, in this case, as putting a penis into someone’s mouth.

Other examples include forcing someone to masturbate or forcing them to watch someone else masturbate. Any unwanted sexual touching of private body parts is assault.

Sexual harassment, which is making inappropriate sexual comments also falls under assault as well as harassment.

If someone exposes themselves, that is voyeurism, and it is also assault. So is forcing someone to watch a sex act or pornography.

Rape and Sexual Assault

The media often uses the terms rape and sexual assault interchangeably.

In recent news, we have heard the stories of women who have come forth as part of the #MeToo movement. We have also seen extensive coverage of the Harvey Weinstein allegations.

While the media’s use of the words as synonyms is unintentional, it is confusing. These two terms mean very different things. Rape is a specific act. Sexual assault can encompass a range of sexual, criminal acts.

Assault includes a range of acts from unwanted touching and kissing, to groping or forcing someone to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way.

Rape and assault cross paths because sexual assault includes rape.

Rape Defined

In 2012, the FBI revised the definition of rape.

It is 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, without the consent of the victim.”

The revised law is now gender neutral. Anyone, male or female, can be a victim. The perpetrator does not have to be a stranger. The act does not have to be by physical force only.

The relationship, if any, between the victim and perpetrator does not matter. Nor does the amount, if any, of physical force.

A sexual act constitutes rape when there is a lack of consent. The perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance (“no”). He or she can overpower the victim’s physical resistance by holding the person down.

The perpetrator can threaten or use a weapon against a person. Any of these things can remove the person’s ability to truly consent. This qualifies rape as an act of sexual assault.

Sexual Abuse

In recent months, we have had extensive news coverage regarding the criminal trial for sports doctor Larry Nassar, who has been charged with sexual abuse of children. Sexual abuse specifically applies to behavior toward children and not adults.

What Is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse occurs when someone in a position of authority or power takes advantage of a person’s trust and respect. They involve that person, who is a child, in sexual activity.

Those activities can involve different things. It includes touching a victim in a sexual manner. It can include forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way.

Or, the perpetrator can make the victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity, such as a pornographic film.

How Sexual Abuse Can Occur

Sexual abuse can happen between a child and an adult. That could mean a parent and child. It could also happen between a doctor and patient, a teacher and student, or a priest and parishioner. It can even happen between a child and an older child.

Age of Consent

All 50 states have laws recognizing that children cannot give informed consent to any sex act. In the US, the age at which a young person can give consent ranges from 16 years old to 18 years old.

Sexual Violence As It Relates To Sexual Abuse and Assault

Behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence” to describe sexual abuse and assault.

This term is far broader than either sexual abuse or assault. It includes acts that the laws don’t identify as criminal, but that are traumatic and harmful nonetheless.

Sexual violence includes making false promises, using insistent pressure, and making abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce the victim into a sex act.

It can include nonphysical acts like catcalls and whistles. Such acts make the victim, most of the time women, feel objectified and even victimized.

Important to note, it also includes nonconsensual sharing of explicit electronic images, such as exposed genitals. Finally, it includes secretly viewing others naked or during sex.

What to Do If You Are Facing Sex Offense Charges

A sexual abuse charge carries heavy consequences. If convicted, the conviction will have a life-long, irreversible impact on your life.

Sex crimes lawyer John Webb provides legal services for clients in the Saco ME and Portland ME areas. These services cover a range of criminal charges, including sexual offenses like sexual assault and sexual abuse.

Please contact us to see how we can help you.