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Child Sex Abuse and Molestation Terminology

Child Sexual Abuse Terminology and Definitions

Many victims of childhood sex abuse and trauma are overwhelmed by the prospect of filing a lawsuit against those responsible for their abuse. Understanding some of the key terms related to child sex abuse and molestation can be an important step in coming forward to seek justice.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a general term which covers a range of behavior for which a perpetrator may be held criminally or civilly liable. Broadly defined, sexual assault is any undesired physical contact of a sexual nature perpetrated against another. Sexual assault includes rape, which is defined in California as non-consensual sexual intercourse that involves the use of threat of force, violence, or immediate and unlawful bodily injury, or threats of future retaliation and duress. Rape also occurs when a person is incapable of giving consent due to age, intoxication, or disability.  

Sexual Battery

Sexual battery is defined under the California Penal Code § 243.4 as the touching of an intimate part of another person for purposes of sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse. Someone who commits sexual battery may also be held liable in a civil lawsuit for money damages.

Statutory Rape

Statutory rape is sexual activity in which one person is below the age required to legally consent to the behavior. In most states, including California, the age of consent is 18. Some jurisdictions have what is known as a “Romeo and Juliet” law, which excuses consensual sex between minors who are close in age. California does not have a Romeo and Juliet law. In California, sex with anyone under the age of 18 is a crime.

Unlawful Sexual Abuse

Unlawful sexual abuse is defined by California Penal Code § 261.5 as an act of sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 who is not the spouse of the perpetrator.

Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct is inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature. Sexual misconduct occurs where a person in a position of authority engages in sexual activity with a subordinate. This includes teachers and their students, clergy members and their congregants, doctors and their patients, and employers and their employees. While this activity may not be explicitly illegal when it occurs between adults, sexual misconduct between an adult and a child is a crime in California.

Child Abuse

Child abuse is any act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sex abuse or exploitation; or any act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

Institutional Sexual Abuse

Institutional sex abuse is sexual abuse or misconduct that takes place within an institution such as a school, church, sports organization, foster care family, or military academy. Where officials within an institution have failed to prevent sexual abuse, they may be liable for civil damages to victims who suffered at the hands of sexual predators.

Institutional sexual abuse is often reported on by the media. Reports of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and through Jerry Sandusky’s The Second Mile charity for disadvantaged youth commanded significant mainstream media attention.

Endangering the Welfare of a Child

Endangering the welfare of a child is considered an indirect form of child abuse in many states, including California. California Penal Code § 273(a) defines endangering the welfare of a child as the infliction of physical pain or mental suffering on a child in a way that is willful or that permits a child to be placed in circumstances in which the child’s health or person may be in danger. 

Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student

An improper relationship between an educator and student is any sexual relationship between an educator (including school administrators and teachers) and a student. In California, any sexual contact with a minor under the age of 18 is a crime. If school administrators have failed to prevent improper relationships between teachers and students, the school district may be liable for civil damages in a lawsuit filed by victims.

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