Sexual abuse describes a range of nonconsensual, harmful behaviors directed at a victim’s sexual characteristics. While the targets of sexual abuse are often women and children, men may also be victimized. Sexual abuse may include non-violent acts, such as unwanted touching and cyberbullying, as well as rape and sexual assault.
Sexual abuse is an act of cruelty, even if no physical contact is involved. In all cases, perpetrators deliberately target someone they perceive as weaker than them, with the goal of humiliating and/or controlling their victim. The many types of sexual abuse include the following:
- Rape and sexual assault, including date rape
- Unwanted touching
- Forced participation in lewd or degrading acts
- Child molestation
- Child pornography
- Threats and harassment, including cyberbullying
- Human trafficking
Those who commit sexual abuse inflict psychological and emotional pain on their victims and may physically injure them as well. The scars of sexual abuse may persist for a lifetime.
Rape and Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is known to be widespread and underreported. It has been estimated that less than 25 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police.The annual Criminal Victimization report published by the U.S. Bureau of Justice indicates that the number of self-reported sexual assaults against victims aged 12 and older has been increasing. In 2018, more than 734,000 cases of sexual assault were reported, representing nearly a 70 percent increase since 2015.
Legal Definitions of Rape and Sexual Assault in California
The precise legal definition of rape varies by state. California defines rape as sexual intercourse, differentiating crime from sodomy and forcible acts of penetration. California also distinguishes between rape of a spouse and rape of a person who is not a spouse. Various forms of rape include gang rape, serial rape, and incest. Rape entails a lack of consent on the part of the victim, described in the statute as including the following circumstances:
- The perpetrator accomplished the act by force, violence, duress, or threat of immediate bodily injury
- The victim was mentally or physically unable to give legal consent
- The victim was intoxicated, unconscious, or asleep
- The perpetrator fraudulently represented the act of penetration as serving a professional purpose
- The perpetrator was pretending to be someone else known to the victim
- The perpetrator threatened future harm, including kidnapping or imprisonment
- The perpetrator threatened to use their perceived authority to arrest, incarcerate, or deport the victim
In 2018, the number of forcible rape cases reported in California exceeded 15,500, the highest of any state in the U.S. It is estimated that about two million women in California and at least 23 million women across the country are rape survivors.
Date Rape and Intimate Partner Violence
Date rape is a non-legal term used to describe situations in which victims have been romantically or potentially sexually involved with the perpetrator. Some studies suggest that date rape is the most common form of rape. Most victims of date rape are in their late teens or early 20s. Very often, they are college students who either knowingly or unwittingly consumed alcohol or date rape drugs, including the following:
- Flunitrazepam, also known as roofies
- Ketamine, also known as Special K
- Gamma hydroxybutyric acid, also known as ecstasy
California laws against rape and sexual assault apply to date rape. Intimate partner violence is similar to date rape, in that both partners know each other. However, the violence may not be sexual, and alcohol or date rape drugs may not be involved. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence (NIPSV) survey, victims of intimate partner violence commonly experience the following negative impacts:
- Feeling fearful
- Concern for their safety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
It is estimated that nearly one in four women, and one in seven men experience intimate partner violence.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world. Millions of people worldwide are victims of labor and sexual exploitation. According the California Department of Justice, an estimated 99 percent of the sexual exploitation victims of human trafficking are women and girls.With its long borders and the world’s fifth largest economy, California is one of the nation’s top destinations for human trafficking.
Section 52.6 of the California Civil Code mandates that certain establishments post a human trafficking notice that includes information about services available to human trafficking victims. The notice must be posted in a conspicuous place in full public view.
California defines sexual battery as unwanted touching of an intimate body part of another person under various circumstances, including the following:
- The touching was against the victim’s will
- The victim was unconscious, disabled, medically incapacitated, or institutionalized for medical treatment
- The victim was unlawfully restrained
The penalties for sexual battery are typically less than those meted out for rape or sexual assault. However, defendants can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances involved and whether the defendant had prior convictions. Attorneys representing those charged with sexual battery may claim that the touching was consensual or that it was not sexual in nature. There also may be insufficient evidence to prove the incident took place. It is very important for victims to collect as much evidence as possible.
The law also specifically mentions circumstances in which the victim is an employee of the perpetrator. In those cases, the incident is a violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which prohibits sexual harassment in places of employment.
Sexual Abuse of Children and Child Molestation
Sexual abuse of children often starts when predators use their position of authority and trust to erode a child’s defenses slowly over time. Some so-called “grooming” tactics include:
- Hugging or kissing when the child does not seek physical contact
- Sharing pornographic images or videos
- Lewd acts or comments
- Indecent exposure
These initial acts may be followed by molestation and sexual assault. Many states, including California, impose stricter criminal penalties when the victim of sexual abuse is a child. Aggravated assault of a child, which can include rape, is considered a felony in California, with penalties up to life in prison. Statutory rape is also considered a separate type of crime that applies when at least one of the persons involved is a minor. Other forms of sexual abuse of children include sex trafficking and forcing a child to marry. California also considers child molestation as a separate type of crime committed against children under 14 involving lewd acts, or a child 14 or 15 when the perpetrator is at least 10 years older.
Is Child Pornography a Form of Sexual Abuse?
Child pornography is considered a form of sexual abuse. The U.S. Justice Department considers child pornography as a form of child sexual exploitation that creates a permanent record of the sexual abuse endured by a child. The psychological harm done is magnified because the victim may know that the images of their sexual abuse remain in circulation. California penal code 311 defines child pornography as an obscene matter, depicting persons under the age of 16.
Clergy Abuse of Children
In recent years, thousands of tragic stories have surfaced describing the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, including priests in the Roman Catholic church. In California, the state’s Department of Justice is gathering information from the public regarding complaints about sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy and religious organizations.
Children abused by clergy often suffer a lifetime of emotional and psychological distress. Because child survivors were typically taught to trust and look up to religious authority figures, many of them kept the abuse a secret. Those that did speak out were often told to keep quiet. Survivors who struggled for years in silence may suffer from depression, PTSD, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. They may also have difficulty maintaining positive relationships, given the profound betrayal of trust they experienced
In many states, the statute of limitations prevents survivors from obtaining justice if they did not realize until years later that their struggles were due to sexual abuse in childhood. California now has the Child Victims Act, which empowers survivors to file lawsuits that were previously barred by the statute of limitations. New York, New Jersey, and other states have also done the same.
These changes have enabled many clergy abuse survivors to bring civil suits against their abusers, as well as the religious organizations that failed to report or stop abuse. Holding perpetrators accountable is an important step in moving forward and healing. Obtaining financial compensation can pay for medical treatment, counseling, medication, and lost wages. A qualified Los Angeles sexual abuse lawyer can make it easier for clergy abuse survivors to navigate the legal process and recover damages for their pain and suffering.
Sexual Abuse and Cyberbullying
Many states, including California, have laws against cyberbullying, which is the practice of sending communications online to harass or intimidate. When the communications are sexual in nature, cyberbullying becomes a form of sexual abuse. In the state of California, cyberbullying is covered by California Education Codes 32261 and other statutes. These laws authorize school officials to suspend or expel students who engage in cyberbullying.
Sexual abuse is one form of sexual harassment, although many types of sexual harassment do not constitute sexual abuse. For example, if a supervisor asks an employee to have sex in exchange for a promotion, or tolerates lewd or harassing comments in the workplace, that is considered sexual harassment but not sexual abuse. Sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace; it falls under the practices of employment law and civil rights, rather than personal injury.
Who Commits Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse is typically committed by those who can exert some type of control over their victims. They may be in a position of power, trust, or authority, including the following:
- Teachers and coaches
- Police officers and correctional officers
- Workers at nursing homes and hospitals
- Counselors and therapists
- Daycare workers
- Volunteers who work with youth
Most sexual assaults against women occur in the home. Among the elderly, sexual assault occurs most frequently in hospitals and nursing homes. Disabled persons are also vulnerable to assault in residential care facilities. Sexual assault can happen anywhere, including schools, churches, workplaces, and doctor’s offices. Abuse of power by law enforcement may also occur because officers are in a unique position of authority and control.
Holding Attackers Accountable
The courts have the power to mete out justice to perpetrators of sexual abuse in two ways: criminal trials and civil lawsuits. Both types of suits seek to hold attackers accountable, however, the judicial decisions sought and the desired outcomes are very different.
A civil case is a personal injury claim against the attacker. Sexual assault is not considered a cause of action for bringing a civil lawsuit, so sexual abuse victims typically bring suits under different legal theories, including civil assault and battery.
Bringing a sexual assault claim in civil court typically involves proving the attacker intentionally harmed the victim. However, if the attacker was employed or supervised by an organization, such as a school, hospital, or church, that organization may also be found to be negligent. Their negligence may include poor hiring practices, a failure to do background checks, or engaging in a cover up which allowed the abuse to continue.
Victims of sexual assault often suffer catastrophic injuries, and for that reason, they decide to pursue civil claims to obtain monetary compensation for damages. Victims may also be forced to miss work as they recover. Financial settlements can help victims pay for medical treatment, counseling, and lost wages.
Los Angeles Sexual Abuse Lawyers at Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP Help Sexual Abuse Survivors Obtain the Compensation They Deserve
If you or someone you know was sexually abused, you have the right to hold your attacker accountable and seek financial compensation for your pain and suffering. The experienced Los Angeles sexual abuse lawyers at Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP will help you through the difficult process of coming forward to seek justice. We confidently handle complex cases and are determined to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients. We represent sexual abuse victims throughout California from our offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. To arrange a free consultation, contact us online or call 833-ACTS-LAW.