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Types of Sexual Abuse in California

Making a claim in civil court for sex crime injuries

The term “sexual assault” encompasses a lot of different behaviors. As a survivor, you may not know exactly which crime was committed against you, or what the penalties are for a conviction of that crime. At Taylor & Ring in Los Angeles, we fight on behalf of all victims of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. To learn more about your options, please contact our California sexual assault lawyers today.


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How does California define a sex crime?

A sex crime is one which involves unwanted touching of a body part, namely a person’s genitals, groin, buttocks, anus, or breasts. The type of contact, and the circumstances in which contact was made, also define what is a crime and what is not. For example, if you are at a restaurant and another patron passes by you, and accidentally touches your breast with his or her arm, that is not a sex crime. However, if another patron purposely reaches out and gropes your breast, then you could potentially pursue charges against that patron for sexual assault.

Not all sex crimes, however, involve physical contact. Stalking is considered a sex crime; so is solicitation and indecent exposure.

How does sexual assault differ from rape?

Sexual assault encompasses a wide array of sexual criminal acts. This includes forcible, unwanted touching (such as kissing or groping another person’s groin through his or her pants).

Under the law, “Rape is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person not the spouse of the perpetrator,” arising under one (or more) of the following circumstances:

  1. The victim is incapable of giving consent, because he or she:
    1. Has a mental or physical disability.
    2. Is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
    3. Is unconscious, asleep, or unknowing/unaware of what was happening.
  2. The victim was subjected to intercourse “against [his or her] will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury.”
  3. The abuser committed an act of fraud.
  4. “The act is accomplished against the victim’s will by threatening to use the authority of a public official to incarcerate, arrest, or deport the victim or another, and the victim has a reasonable belief that the perpetrator is a public official.”

In short, all rape is a type of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape.

Spousal rape

Though the current definition of “rape” under California law specifically mentions an act of intercourse with a non-spouse, that does not mean California does not recognize spousal rape. Under CA Penal Code § 262 (2017), all of the same circumstances apply in cases involving spouses, and the State does recognize this as rape.

Date rape

There is no such thing called “date rape” in California, because this act falls under the general definition of rape by the law. Just because two people may be “seeing” each other, or even seriously dating, does not mean that a survivor cannot press charges for rape.

Statutory rape

In California, statutory rape is defined as such: “Unlawful sexual intercourse is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator, if the person is a minor.”

While the majority of the law deals with sex between a person who is legally an adult (18 and older) and a minor (under 18), anyone who has sex with a minor can be charged, including:

  • Two minors who have consented to one another
  • A minor who has consented to his or her adult partner
  • A minor who has sought parental permission/knowledge to have sex with a partner

The “age of consent” in California is 17, which means that two consenting 17-year-olds could be excluded from being charged, but if an 18-year-old has sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old, the 18-year-old could face charges of statutory rape.

Sexual assault against children

California recognizes myriad sexual assault crimes committed against children. These crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Forcing a minor into marriage
  • Rape
  • Sodomy
  • Oral copulation
  • Sexual penetration that cannot be defined as intercourse
  • Forcing a child into prostitution
  • Child pornography
  • Abduction of a minor for sexual gratification or trafficking purposes

In many cases, sex crimes against children result in stricter penalties. For example, a rape conviction may lead to up to 8 years in prison. If a person is convicted of raping a child, however, he or she may face up to 13 years in prison.

Child molestation

California defines molestation a bit differently than it defines other types of sex acts against children. Child molestation can include almost any type of inappropriate behavior: touching, kissing, making sexual or lewd comments, etc. Those convicted of these charges must register as sex offenders, as well.

Is sexual bullying a crime?

The term sexual bullying has been around for close to a decade, but it is not as well-known as “sexual assault” or “sexual abuse.” Sexual bullying is harassment directly related to your child’s sexual orientation, gender, body parts, or appearance. In today’s world, sexual bullying mostly (but not always) occurs online:

  • Sending sexual photos or videos, include pictures of body parts, or other obscene images
  • Leaving comments on your child’s social media accounts
  • Spreading rumors about your child’s gender, orientation, or alleged sexual experiences
  • Making sexual jokes about your child
  • Blackmailing your child to engage in sexual behaviors
  • Setting up a “quid pro quo” scenario, where the bullying will stop in exchange for sexual behavior
  • Sexting, or sending sexually explicit texts, DMs, or messages
  • Asking for sexual images or videos
  • Snapping a bra strap, or touching your child’s underwear
  • Groping, pinching, touching, or rubbing your child
  • Continuously harassing your child to go out with him/her
  • Pretending to be someone else online for sexual favors (“catfishing”)
  • Exposing your child’s personal information (“doxing”) for sexual purposes

Adults can also be victims of sexual bullying, though the laws refer to this as sexual harassment. If you are an adult who has been harassed or bullied, you are also entitled to protections under the law.

Related: How Can You Identify Sexual Bullying When It’s Happening to You?

Filing a claim for sexual abuse, assault, or harassment

If you have been a victim of sexual violence in California, you can make a claim for compensation for the injuries you sustained. These claims are made through the civil court system (as opposed to the criminal court system), and could entitle you to damages for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages, or loss of future earning potential
  • Pain and suffering, including mental and emotional trauma
  • Additional expenses related to your injuries

Read more: The Difference between Criminal and Civil Cases in California Courts

How long do I have to file a claim?

Under the current law, a survivor has up to 10 years to file a claim, or within 3 years of the reasonable discovery of injuries stemming from that claim. As of January 2020, adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse must file a claim by the age of 40, or within 5 years of the discovery of the abuse. Under the new legislation, “In cases where a child becomes a victim of sexual assault as the result of an effort to cover up past assaults,” survivors may be entitled to treble damages.

The updated law also allows for a three year window for the revival of claims that may have been denied due to expired statutes of limitation.

Do I need a California sexual assault lawyer?

You have the right to pursue a civil claim without representation, but you could put your case at risk. Much like you would not ask an accountant to fix a seized engine in your car, trying to navigate the justice system on your own is a mistake.

At Taylor & Ring, we routinely handle complex, high-profile sexual assault cases throughout California. Our Los Angeles sexual abuse attorneys have obtained significant awards on behalf of our clients, and have successfully sued government entities, school districts, private companies, and individuals who have committed acts of sexual violence, or aided and abetted those who committed those acts.

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Aggressive representation on behalf of sex crime survivors and their families in California

At Taylor & Ring, we understand what you’re up against. You can trust us to protect your family and your future. To schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys in Los Angeles, please call 310-776-6390, or fill out our contact form. If you cannot come to us, we can travel to you.