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Glossary of Sexual Abuse or Sexual Violence Terms

Important Definitions Relating to Sexual Abuse that You Should Know:

Sexual abuse is a nuanced legal issue in the state of California. While there is much more to a sexual abuse case than the legal lingo, knowing the terms can help you understand your rights. You can discover the official term for what you’re going through, as well as related help and resources. Use this overview of glossary terms as a starting point during your sexual abuse claim. Then, contact an attorney for more in-depth and personalized legal information.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Under California law, “sexual abuse” is synonymous with “sexual battery” or “sexual assault.” Sexual abuse is any person touching an intimate part of another person while the victim is unlawfully restrained, and if the touching is against the victim’s will and for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse of the perpetrator. Touching the intimate parts of an institutionalized, seriously disabled, or unconscious person is also sexual battery. “Touching” can mean any physical contact, either directly or through the clothing. “Intimate parts” include the sexual organs, groin, anus, or buttocks of any person, and the breasts of a female.

What is Systemic Sexual Abuse?

Systemic sexual abuse is an organized type of sex crime that often involves many perpetrators and victims operating under a single system, such as a cult or gang. Systemic sexual abuse involves the sexual assault and/or rape of victims to “initiate” either the perpetrator or the victim into the group. The purpose of this type of sexual abuse is generally to exercise power or control over the victims, under the guise of initiation or spiritual gathering.

What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual abuse is sexual violence, but sexual violence is not necessarily sexual abuse. “Sexual violence” is an umbrella term that can refer to all crimes related to sexual contact and actions, including assault, abuse, molestation, and rape. When someone refers to “sexual violence,” he or she could mean any type of sex crime. “Sexual abuse,” on the other hand, more specifically refers to unwanted sexual touching or sexual battery.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Any type of unwanted sexual advances, conduct of a sexual nature, or offensive behavior could constitute sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur in a workplace setting or elsewhere. In general, for actions to qualify as “harassment,” they must occur regularly enough to create a hostile work environment or to disrupt the employee’s ability to work. Single incidents can be sexual harassment, however, if they are serious enough.

Examples of behaviors that could qualify as sexual harassment include sexual gestures, comments, slurs, jokes, verbal abuse, physical touching, sexual assault, requesting sexual favors, or making employment decisions based on sex or sexual acts. If someone experiences sexual harassment or abuse at work, he or she should report the issue to Human Resources and file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Repressed, Recovered, or Suggested Memories – Definitions of Each

When revisiting an experience of sexual abuse, the different memories that come to mind will have different names depending on where they’re coming from. A Repressed Memory is one that the brain has intentionally forgotten, or suppressed, because of extreme trauma. Trauma can disrupt long-term memory storage, leaving behind emotions or feelings but not the actual memories. Days, months, or years later, the repressed memories of trauma such as sexual abuse may resurface.

Recovered Memories of sexual abuse are repressed memories that the victim manages to discover, often through methods such as recovered-memory therapy. Recovered memories are historically true. Suggested Memories of sexual abuse refer to memories that are not historically true, but that the victim believes he or she has recovered based on suggestions from a therapist or someone else. The topic of repressed and recovered memories is a controversial one among scientists, researchers, and clinicians.

How is a Victim and Survivor Different in Sexual Abuse?

You will hear both terms in the realm of sexual abuse: victim and survivor. People may use them interchangeably to refer to someone who has experienced sexual abuse, but they technically have different definitions. A victim is someone a sexual abuser has taken advantage of or harmed. Victims might not be aware that they are victims at all, due to suppressed memories or lack of understanding about what sexual assault is. “Victim” can also refer to someone who has died because of sexual abuse.

A survivor is someone who lived through sexual abuse and who is aware of what happened to him or her. Survivors look for support and encouragement in group settings, with others who have experienced the same or similar traumas. Some survivors may turn their traumas into lessons to inspire others to also live through sexual abuse.

What is a Perpetrator?

A perpetrator is someone who commits a crime. Anyone who commits an illegal, immoral, or harmful act may get the title “perpetrator.” Someone can be a perpetrator even before the courts issue a criminal conviction against him or her. The term perpetrator most commonly refers to offenders of sexual crimes as opposed to violent or other crimes.

What is Sexual Exploitation vs. Sex Trafficking?

Sexual exploitation refers specifically to the sexual abuse of children. Sexual exploitation often involves exchanging child and youth sexual performances for money, food, drugs, or shelter. Many children involved in these sexually abusive situations might believe they are in romantic, consensual relationships with loving partners. Others have perpetrators that groom them and exploit them online. Child pornography is a form of sexual exploitation.

Children and others might also become victims of sex trafficking as part of sexual exploitation schemes. Sex trafficking refers to commercial sexual exploitation. It can involve perpetrators selling minors into sexual slavery, in which the victims perform or engage in sexual acts against their will as parts of an illegal sex trade. Sex trafficking most often involves child victims.

What is the Definition of Child Molestation?

Child molestation, or child sexual abuse, according to California Penal Code Section 288 is any “lewd or lascivious act upon the body of a child who is under the age of 14 with the intent of gratifying, arousing, or appealing to the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the child.” Child molestation can involve an adult or older adolescent perpetrator. It can describe any type of sexual activity with a child, including indecent exposure, child grooming, and touching of any body parts.

What does Incest Mean?

Sexual abuse committed by a family member against another is sadly a quite common crime. Incest, or familial sexual abuse, is common because older adult family members can gain the trust of younger children and use it to get close to them. Children in the family may feel safe with other relatives and trust them, without realizing that what the adult is doing is sexual abuse. Victims of incest often experience sexual abuse for years before coming forward, if they do at all, for fear of what the family member might do or say.

What is Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV)?

Intimate Partner Sexual Violence, or IPSV for short, describes unwanted sexual activity from an intimate partner, with the purpose of intimidating or controlling the victim. Many people mistakenly believe that sexual contact from an intimate partner cannot be sexual abuse. This is not true. If an intimate partner uses sexual activities to control the victim through violence, fear, or threats, it is a form of sexual abuse.

IPSV can include coerced or forced intercourse, violent sex, forced participation in group sex or pornography, unwanted sexual contact, forced prostitution, and using sex as a tool for threats or to “prove faithfulness.” Most cases of IPSV occur in relationships with other types of domestic violence, but this is not true for everyone.

What’s the Definition of Date Rape?

Date rape, or acquaintance rape, involves rape or other sexual abuse by someone the victim knows or just met – such as the other person involved on a date. More specifically, the phrase “date rape” describes rape scenarios in which the perpetrator secretly drugs the victim for the purpose of committing sexual assault. Date rape drugs are colorless and tasteless and often added to victims’ drinks without them knowing. The perpetrator then sexually assaults the victim while he or she is helpless, confused, and/or unconscious.

What’s the Connection Between Pornography and Sexual Violence?

Pornography can describe any sexually graphic material, including photographs and videos, especially if the material combines sexual acts with violence or abuse. Many studies have found links between pornography and sex crimes, including sex crimes against children. The purpose of pornography is to sexually arouse those seeing the material. Child pornography is always against the law. Sexual abusers may threaten or coerce victims into engaging in pornographic materials.

Revenge Pornography

Revenge porn is a somewhat new sexual abuse term that has arisen in the digital age. California has enacted a revenge porn penal code criminalizing this action in 2013. Section 647(j)(4) of the law makes it a misdemeanor to distribute sexual images, videos, or other content of a person through any medium without that person’s consent, with the intent to cause the person emotional distress or damage to his/her reputation. In other words, it’s illegal to post or publish sexually explicit photos or videos of someone (such as an ex-spouse) as a form of revenge against that person.

The Definition of Stalking

California Penal Code Section 646.9 defines “stalking” as willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or willfully and maliciously harassing another person and making a threat with the intent to cause fear in the victim. Generally, fear of threats to his/her safety or to the safety of the victim’s family members or pets. Stalking is a crime that is punishable with jail time and/or fines in California.

Stalking is often a precursor to sexual assault. Perpetrators stalk their victims by following them, approaching them, appearing at their home or work, contacting them, or issuing verbal threats. They may then sexually assault the victims once they have intimidated or frightened them with stalking. Many people who report sexual abuse and rape state that they experienced stalking beforehand. If someone is stalking you, consider filing a restraining order.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can affect a victim of sexual abuse for years after the traumatic incident. It is an extremely common result of child sexual abuse and other traumas. People with PTSD can experience nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, fear, guilt, shame, withdrawal, disinterest, and habit or neurotic disorders. It is possible to recover from PTSD with time, patience, and professional counseling.

How Does Restitution Work with Sexual Abuse?

Restitution refers to the monetary award or compensation an injured person (plaintiff) can get from a perpetrator (defendant) in a civil case. Sexual abuse victims and survivors have the right to file civil claims against their perpetrators in California. Doing so could result in restitution in the form of compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, and other damages.

Victim Impact Statement

Victims of sexual abuse have the ability to provide victim impact statements during court proceedings regarding the crime if they wish to. These statements describe how the sex crime impacted the individual, as well as the outcome the victim hopes to see for the court case. Judges may take victim impact statements into consideration when determining sentencing and civil case compensation awards. A judge may award punitive damages to sexual abuse victims if he or she believes compensable damages aren’t enough to repair the damage.

Understanding some of the key terms and definitions for sexual abuse is the first step in your case. If you were a victim of sexual abuse or child molestation, contact the experienced, trauma-informed team of sexual abuse attorneys at Estey & Bomberger, LLP. We understand how traumatic your situation is, and will work diligently to help you with your case!

Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation about your case! (800) 925-0723

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