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Molestation vs Sexual Abuse
5 Key Differences

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

Schmidt & Clark, LLP is not currently accepting these types of cases and has posted this content for information purposes only. We encourage you to seek a qualified attorney, if you feel you might have a case.

Both molestation and sexual abuse are among the most punishable crimes. But, the difference between them is often not clear. Schmidt & Clark lawyers have experience in dealing with sexual harassment cases.

Our lawyers have taken on countless child molestation and sexual abuse cases, so today, we’ll explain the definitions and differences.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • The main difference between sexual abuse and molestation is the victim’s age.
  • Molestation is sexual behavior toward a person under the age of consent, and sexual abuse is sexual behavior toward people of all ages. 
  • You need a trustworthy and experienced attorney for sexual abuse or child molestation case.

Sexual Assault

Woman holding tight on her pillowSexual assault involves sexual intercourse or deviant sexual intercourse (DSI). 

This can include any wrongdoing that involves sexually touching a person or exploiting a person sexually, even if no touching is involved.  It is seen as extremely harmful to the person’s well-being. 

According to The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), in 2005, 9.3% of child abuse and neglect cases also involved sexual abuse [1]. 

“Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” The US Department of Justice

Sexual offenses include:

  • Fondling the victim
  • Forcing the victim to touch sexual body parts
  • Penetrating a victim with a penis or an object that’s not used for a medical purpose

Non-touching sexual offenses include:

  • Indecent acts, such as exposure or exhibitionism in front of a person
  • Making a person watch pornographic material
  • Making a person watch masturbation or sexual intercourse

Sexual abuse can happen to a child or an adult, such as in an abusive working environment, quid-pro-quo harassment, and more. In most cases, child sexual abuse lasts for a certain time period. Rape and sexual abuse are different as well. Sexual abuse becomes rape only if penetration is involved.

Also Read: What is Lewd and Liscivious Conduct?


Uneased minor victim of molestationThe term child molestation is used when a person commits a sex crime.  This involves sex acts with children up to 18 years of age. 

Molestation acts involve:

  • Touching of child’s sex organ
  • Forcing a child to perform an oral sex act or oral penetration
  • Exposing genitalia
  • Taking pornographic photos of the child
  • Statutory rape — When one person is below the age of consent [2]. It can also result in aggravated rape, when serious bodily injury is caused, usually due to physical force.

Molestation is also used when incest happens by a relative, where a family member is a minor. Same as sexual abuse, molestation is seen as rape only when there’s penetration.

Related Article: Romeo and Julie Law

Sexual Abuse vs. Molestation

Man touching coworkers leg without consent Both of these terms include sexual harassment. The legal definition of sexual abuse also includes molestation as a type of sexual violence. 

The most important difference between sexual abuse and molestation is the child’s age.

Sexual abuse can happen to people of all ages, but molestation only happens to individuals under the statutory age — 16 or 18 years old, depending on the state.

Many cases of sexual coercion start as child molestation and then develop into sexual abuse when a victim is made to perform sexual conduct over time.  Also, child sexual abuse is used for institutionalized abuse when a certain organization covers up years of sex crimes. 

Both child sexual abuse and child molestation include sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention, such as:

  • Unwanted touching in a sexual way
  • Touching a child’s genital area, or breasts in females
  • Fondling a child
  • Forcing a child to perform oral sex 
  • Penetration and rape
  • Sodomy
  • Child pornography
  • Indecent exposure
  • Forcing a child to watch pornography
  • Masturbating in front of a child

Sexual Abuse and Molestation Punishment 

Hands contained in handcuffs If a person is charged with sexual abuse or molestation of a child, they face prosecution according to state laws. For example, indecency is considered a felony offense, not a civil offense.

The primary difference between civil and felony offenses is that in the case of a felony charge, the defendant can spend time in jail. 

The offender can spend 5 to 99 years in prison if convicted of a sexual assault of a child on a first-degree felony.

Even after the punishment is served, the felon has to comply with the Sex Offender Registration Program.

Related Articles:

See all related sexual abuse lawsuits our lawyers covered so far.


How to prevent sexual harassment of a child?

A parent or a guardian can prevent sexual harassment of a child.  Pay attention if a child wants to stay away from a specific person and if the person shows sexual interest in the child. Look for signs and symptoms of a sexual relationship, such as diseases transmitted by sexual relations, genital injuries, or bloody undergarments.

Hire a Trustworthy Attorney 

Both molestation and sexual abuse happen without giving informed consent.  The main difference is that molestation concerns younger children, while sexual abuse can concern people of all ages. If someone you know has been sexually assaulted, look for legal representation. 

Lawyers in the law firm Schmidt & Clark, LLP know how delicate these cases are and will provide a trustworthy attorney-client relationship. Contact us today and get free legal advice for your case.