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What is the Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse?

If you have been in some way a victim of a sex crime, it is important to have the legal language to describe what happened to you so that you can fight the accused in court. Learning the difference between sexual assault and sexual abuse can be the difference between winning or losing a case. And, on the flip side, can be instrumental in making sure that the person you’re accusing gets the appropriate punishment administered by the court. 

Definition of Sexual Abuse, Legally

While there are very few explicit definitions of sexual abuse legally, it has come to mean sexual crimes that are either continuous or have the intention of causing discomfort or pain, physically or emotionally. These cases often take place within a power dynamic of one person having more power over the other, such as adult and child or adult and elderly person. Trafficking could also feasibly be reported as abuse.

Definition of Sexual Assault, Legally

The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” That means if someone has performed any sex act on you that was not consensual, that is sexual assault. It can be either premeditated or unexpected, violent or non-violent. Rape, attempted rape, child molestation, forced penetration: all of this is sexual assault. It also includes acts where the individual was not able to consent for whatever reason. If they were asleep, drunk, or are disabled beyond the ability to consent clearly. Whatever the case is, it is traumatic to be sexually assaulted, and survivors of assault deserve justice from their assailants.

What Should Survivors Do?

If you or someone you love is a survivor of either sexual abuse or sexual assault, you have legal options. You should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney in your area who specializes in prosecuting sex crimes. You may be entitled to compensation for your trauma, and be able to get justice.