Sexual abuse occurs when a sexual act, including the alteration of one’s genital anatomy, is imposed upon a nonconsenting or underage person. Types of sexual abuse are contact or noncontact child sexual abuse, statutory rape, sexual assault, rape, spousal rape, sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, and female genital mutilation. Some also consider sexual harassment and stalking as forms of sexual abuse. For all, either state or federal laws prohibit such acts in some or all situations. Differences among the types of sexual abuse often are matters of the age of the victim or perpetrator, the relationship between the two, or the type of act.
Sexual abuse against children is defined by noncontact (e.g., exhibitionism) or contact (e.g., molestation, genital contact, or rape), the relationship of the perpetrator (intrafamilial or extrafamilial), the age differential between the victim and perpetrator (sexual abuse or statutory rape), or by the purpose of the abuse (sexual abuse or sexual exploitation). The latter includes child prostitution or pornography, ritualistic abuse, and more recently, the use of the Internet for locating victims or disseminating pornography.
Other types of sexual abuse are more typically, but not exclusively, perpetrated against adults. These include sexual assault, rape, and spousal rape. Sexual assault involves an unwanted or forcible act that does not include rape against a victim. Less severe forms of sexual assault may also be defined as sexual harassment in specific situations. Rape includes oral, anal, digital, or vaginal penetration, including penetration using an object. Spousal rape tends to be defined more narrowly as that between marital partners versus a cohabiting heterosexual or homosexual partners and may be prosecuted as a lesser crime than rape outside of marriage.
The last two types of sexual abuse—sexual slavery and female genital mutilation—occur less frequently in the United States than in some other countries. Sexual slavery occurs when children or adults are held against their will to perform sexual acts with the slave holder or with others. Female genital mutilation is typically performed for cultural or religious reasons and entails the removal of tissue from the female genitalia. It is often performed on young children and often has serious long-term health effects.
- Bergen, R. K., Edleson, J. L., & Renzetti, C. M. (Eds.). (2004). Violence against women: Classic papers. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Cooper, S. W., Estes, R. J., Giardino, A. P., Kellogg, N. D., & Vieth, V. I. (2006). Medical, legal, and social science aspects of child sexual exploitation. St. Louis, MO: G. W. Medical.
- Russell, D. E. H., & Bolen, R. (2000). The epidemic of rape and child sexual abuse in the United States. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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