Sexual abuse is generally defined as any sexual act with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade another person. State laws reegarding criminal sexual abuse vary according to whether the victim of the abuse is an adult or a minor. Child sexual abuse is most commonly referred to as child molestation, while adult sexual abuse is often referred to as rape or aggravated sexual assault. 

The two most common measures of whether a person has committed sexual abuse are:

  • They caused another person to engage in any sexual act, by threatening them or causing fear in that person; and/or
  • They engage in a sexual act with another person, who is not capable of comprehending the exact nature of that conduct, or that person is physically incapable of communicating their unwillingness to participate in a sexual act.

Sexual assault is defined as any sexual activity that occurs without the clear and uncoerced consent of all parties involved. Sexual assault is a crime in every state. Additionally, every state forbids sexual activity with any person unable to consent. People who are mentally ill, under the age of eighteen, and/or intoxicated are all considered to be unable to consent to sexual activities.

Examples of Sexual Abuse

Some specific examples of sexual abuse include but is not limited to:

  • Unwanted kissing;
  • Unwanted touching;
  • Unwanted rough and/or violent sexual activity;
  • Restricting a person’s birth control access;
  • Refusing to use a condom when asked to do so;
  • Forced birth; and
  • Withholding affection, resources, etc until a person “consents” to sexual activity.

There are several acts that constitute sexual assault, and include but are not limited to:

  • Rape;
  • Molestation;
  • Forced sodomy; and
  • Incest.

In some states, such as Texas, the specific term sexual abuse is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against children. The term sexual assault is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against adult. Recurring or systemic sexual abuse is an unfortunate example of abuse. Such cases most commonly occur in care homes, or youth organization settings. 

Criminal vs. Civil Court

Sexual assault and sexual battery can be tried as both criminal and civil issues. Each state’s specific criminal statutes explain how different sexual crimes are classified, as well as what the penalties are for each crime.

Victims of sexual assault may also file a civil suit against their abuser or attacker. Such civil claims are intended for recovering monetary damages for pain and suffering experienced as a direct result of the assault. Civil claims against sexual predators can be filed alongside, or in addition to, criminal charges. If a criminal case against the defendant does not succeed, or does not reach trial, the victim can sometimes seek relief through a civil case instead.

Recovering Damages as a Victim of Sexual Abuse

Damages and remedies that may be available for abuse victims generally include compensatory damages. Such damages are intended to reimburse the victim for the following expenses:

  • Medical bills;
  • Costs associated with relocating if they are not safe in their own home;
  • Lost wages associated with time away from work because of the incident; and/or
  • Therapy costs, whether physical or mental.

It is important to note that a  plaintiff must choose a cause of action to sue the defendant under. What this means is that personal injury law does not have a sexual assault cause of action. As such, a plaintiff and their attorney must instead choose one or more of the following legal theories to bring against the defendant:

What Defenses Might Be Raised in a Sexual Abuse or Sexual Assault Case?

There are some defenses available to a person accused of sexual assault; however, the best defense depends on the specifics of their case. Many defendants will claim that the assault was not an assault, because the activity was consensual. In many or most cases, there are not other people present to corroborate this assertion. As such, these cases can turn into a “he said/she said” situation. If the alleged victim claims to have been drunk, the defendant may attempt to prove that they were not. The issue of inability to consent would then be harder to prove.

Some other examples of commonly utilized defenses in a sexual abuse or sexual assault case include:

  • Suppression of Evidence: If evidence such as text messages, emails, phone messages, video, or semen are suppressed, someone charged with sexual assault may use this suppression as a defense;
  • Actual Innocence: All defendants are innocent until proven guilty in the US court of law. Because of this, a person who did not actually commit the crime can use this as a defense; 
  • Consent: Sexual assault commonly happens in private. However, if a person charged with assault can reasonably prove that the alleged victim consented to the activity, it may constitute a successful defense; 
  • Mental Incapacity: If either party was drunk at the time the sexual activity occurred, the activity is technically illegal. A person under the influence of alcohol is considered to be unable to consent; and/or
  • Insanity: A legally insane person is unable to consent to sexual action. If the person charged with sexual assault is legally insane, this may prove to be a successful defense.

Are There Differences Between States in How Long a Victim Has to File a Case or Press Charges?

Each state has its own statute of limitations. This statute is essentially a timeframe in which a victim may file a case, or press charges, against their abuser or assailant. The purpose of such limitations is to prevent the spoilage of evidence; however, many states are lifting their statute of limitations for civil sexual assault charges. Some states are lifting their statute entirely, while others have lifted the statute in specific circumstances. A few of these states include:

  • Colorado;
  • Connecticut;
  • Utah; and
  • Washington.

What To Do If You’re a Victim of Rape or Sexual Abuse

If you are a victim of rape or sexual abuse, you should immediately get somewhere safe. Go to the nearest hospital and contact local law enforcement. You may also wish to contact a rape victim lawyer to assist with the process. The attorney can help you determine your best course of action and protect your rights. If you are unsure of how to proceed, contacting an assault and abuse hotline may point you in the right direction.

Gather and maintain as much evidence of the abuse or assault as possible. Examples include but may not be limited to:

  • Photographic and/or video evidence;
  • Copies of medical records and doctor’s notes;
  • Witness statements if at all possible; and
  • Copies of communication between you and the abuser or assailant if possible.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Sexual Assault Legal Issues?

As was just discussed, hiring a lawyer for sexual abuse victims has many benefits. A skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer will be aware of local statutes regarding the matter, such as the statute of limitations for filing a sexual assault claim. 

Additionally, an experienced personal injury attorney can also represent you in court. You may also wish to contact a therapist specializing in sexual assault, sexual abuse, and/or trauma.