Rape, Incest & Sexual Abuse


Types of Sexual Assault and Abuse

Sexual abuse is common, particularly for women and girls: Ninety percent of all rapes are committed against women, with 1 in 6 women experiencing rape. One in five girls and one in 20 boys experience childhood sexual abuse. Sexual abuse and sexual assault are umbrella terms used to refer to a number of sexual crimes. Thes crimes include:

Rape: Forced sexual contact with someone who does not or cannot consent. Forcing sex upon someone who does not want it, who is intoxicated, or who is not legally old enough to give consent all constitute rape. Though a handful of states specifically define rape as forcible sexual intercourse, any form of forcible sexual contact can have long-lasting effects on the victim, and most states now recognize forced oral sex and similar forms of assault as rape.

Child molestation: Child molestation is any sexual contact with a child. Many children who are molested are too young to know what is happening and may not fight back. Some abusers use the child's cooperation in these cases as "evidence" that no one was harmed. Examples of child molestation might include fondling or demanding sexual favors from a child.

Incest: Incest describes sexual contact between family members who are too closely related to marry. While incestuous sexual activity may occur between consenting adults, this is not common. The majority of all reported incest occurs as child abuse. Over a third of American sexual assault survivors under the age of 18 are abused by a family member, according to latest statistics. However, incest is an underreported crime, so the actual number of incest survivors may be higher.

Sexual assault: Non-consensual sexual contact with another person. Sexual assault includes behavior such as groping and any unwanted sexual touching. Attempted rape also falls into the category of sexual assault.

Other forms of sexual abuse: Not all sexual abuse fits neatly into common legal or psychological definitions. For instance, parents who have sex in front of their children or who make sexually inappropriate comments to their children are engaging in sexual abuse. So-called revenge pornography sites, which publish nude photos of victims without their consent, are another form of sexual abuse.

The laws governing sexual abuse are constantly changing. For this reason, most people who work with sexual abuse survivors rely on the victims' feelings, not the law, when determining whether a sexual assault has occurred. For example, marital rape can be deeply traumatic, especially in an otherwise abusive relationship. Yet marital rape did not become a crime anywhere until the 1970s, and it is still a challenging crime to prosecute.

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