Our attorneys focus on holding institutions responsible for allowing abuse to occur. We typically do not handle matters involving abuse by a personal acquaintance, family member, or other individual outside of an organization.

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are terms that we often use interchangeably. However, California law uses these terms to define separate but related crimes. Any person can experience sexual assault, but when the assault happens to a minor, it may be defined as sexual abuse. Between 2010 and 2014, 433,648 Americans 12 and older experienced a sexual assault. In 2012, 60,000 children encountered sexual abuse. If you are one of these survivors, Boucher LLP can help you take control of your life.

What Are Sex Crimes?

The CDC defines sexual violence as “sexual activity when consent is not obtained or freely given.” Sexual violence can impact a person’s health, wellness, and long-term opportunities. As a result, the California Penal Code outlines a wide range of crimes involving sexual violence, including sexual assault and sexual abuse. Pursuing a civil suit for a sex crime is one way to obtain justice for your injuries from sexual violence. You have the right to seek public redress and compensation from the perpetrator and organization that caused you harm.

Sexual Abuse Vs. Sexual Assault Definition 

Sexual assault and sexual abuse are criminal acts that seriously impact the injured person and their community. For an act to meet the definition of sexual assault, called “sexual battery” in California, there must be unwanted touching. The nature of the touching determines which sexual assault crime the perpetrator will be held accountable for. 

Depending on the person’s age, a perpetrator may face sexual abuse and sexual assault charges for a single instance of unwanted contact. However, sexual abuse does not require contact, so not all sexual abuse involves sexual assault. Thus, the defining factors in determining if an assaulter committed sexual assault vs. abuse are the survivor’s age at the time of the incident and the nature of the sexual act.

Sexual Abuse Vs. Sexual Assault

What Is Sexual Assault?

California law defines sexual assault, or sexual battery, as unwanted sexual contact with a person’s intimate part for the purpose of sexual abuse, arousal, or gratification. If the contact involves sexual intercourse or penetration, however slight, it is rape. Sexual assault also includes sodomy, oral copulation, and sexual penetration by a foreign object.

 In California, all forms of non-consensual sexual assault may be considered rape, including:

  • When the person is incapable of giving legal consent (and the perpetrator knows this at the time of committing the act);
  • When the assaulter accomplishes the sexual contact against the person’s will;
  • When the person cannot resist because of intoxication;
  • When the person is unconscious or asleep;
  • When the perpetrator convinces the person to submit by intentionally misrepresenting their identity;
  • When the assaulter forces the person to submit due to fear of retaliation; and
  • When the perpetrator forces the person to submit using threats relating to incarceration or deportation.

Sexual intercourse with a minor is statutory rape. Finally, rape or sexual battery involving a minor may also be childhood sexual abuse.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault?

California limits civil lawsuits for sexual assault on an adult to 10 years from the date of the last act. When the survivor discovers an injury or illness caused by the assault later in life, they can bring a lawsuit within three years from the date of the discovery.

What Is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse most often refers to childhood sexual abuse—the involvement of a child (a person less than 18 years old) in sexual activity. Sexual abuse is child abuse, and survivors face a greater risk of developing health issues like PTSD and major depression. 

A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, regardless of maturity, so all sexual contact with a minor is assault. In addition, the definition of childhood sexual abuse in California includes other forms of sexual conduct that do not involve physical contact between the perpetrator and the child.

Accordingly, childhood sexual abuse occurs when an adult engages a minor in incest, sodomy, oral copulation, sexual penetration, sex trafficking, or child pornography. It includes child molestation, indecent exposure, exhibitionism (exposing oneself to a minor), masturbation in the presence of a minor, and forcing the minor to masturbate. Child sexual abuse also includes obscene conversations, phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction, and producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children. It is also unlawful for an adult to force a minor to take photos or touch another minor.

Children can be at risk of sexual abuse anytime an adult has access or opportunity, especially in institutions where an adult has authority over many children. The majority of perpetrators are someone the child or family knows. As many as 93% of people under 18 know their abuser. Abuse may occur at school, church, boy scouts, talent agencies, sports, and other youth-serving organizations. Sexual abusers often act charming, kind, and helpful to gain a child’s and their family’s trust. Known as “grooming,” this facade can make it less likely that adults will believe the child if they speak up about the abuse. Thus, many survivors do not speak up about their abuse until adulthood.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse?

In 2019, the California legislature recognized the prevalence of sexual abuse survivors discovering injuries in adulthood caused by their childhood assault. Assembly Bill No. 218 extended the time for survivors to file a civil suit for the redress of injuries caused by childhood sexual abuse. Survivors may now file a lawsuit up to

  • 22 years from the date they attain the age of majority (their 40th birthday), or 
  • Five years from the date they discover their psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the childhood sexual assault, whichever is later. 

Survivors over the age of 40 also have another opportunity to sue. Assembly Bill 218 opened a three-year window for survivors to bring previously time-blocked claims. Regardless of when the abuse occurred, California survivors can sue their abuser or the responsible institution until January 1, 2023.

Boucher LLP: Helping California Survivors Understand Sexual Abuse Vs. Sexual Assault

Regardless of the exact crime, unwanted sexual activity can be a traumatic and painful experience for survivors. Ray Boucher and his team want to help you stand up and regain control of your life. Whether the assault or abuse occurred recently or when you were a child, you deserve compensation and vindication. Our compassionate, experienced attorneys will listen to your story and work with you to bring your abuser to justice. You do not have to suffer in silence any longer. Call us or contact us online today.