What is the Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse?

What is the Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse?

Sex crimes involve a wide range of offenses and are rightly seen as predatory acts of violence. New Jersey law defines numerous individual sex crimes, which can be punished by incarceration, fines and, in some cases, community supervision that lasts the rest of the perpetrator’s life.

As New Jersey criminal defense attorneys who provide Constitutionally mandated legal representation to accused sex offenders, we often find that people are confused about the differences between sexual assault and sexual abuse. Child sex abuse is a form of sexual assault under New Jersey law.

Most sex crime cases are based on an act of sex has taken place between two people absent the consent of the alleged victim. The lack of consent may be due to physical force or inability to give consent due to age, relationship or incapacity. Sexual assault includes a wide range of unwanted sexual contact, from groping to first-degree rape.

In a rewrite of New Jersey laws effective in 2019, the state defined sexual assault as acts involving penetration, and criminal sexual contact as acts involving non-consensual touching for the purposes of sexual gratification or degradation. Additional New Jersey laws address non-contact sexual crimes such as exhibitionism, threatened sexual violence and verbal sexual harassment. In addition to changes to N.J. criminal laws, New Jersey lawmakers also extended the time allowed for victims of sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits seeking financial compensation for the harm they suffered.

Regardless of the specific charges you face, if you have been charged with sexual assault or criminal sexual contact in New Jersey, you should obtain qualified legal representation as soon as possible. Your future may be at stake. Any conviction of a sex crime can have lifelong repercussions. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can provide a free initial consultation about the charges and potential penalties you face. If we represent you, we will apply our firm’s resources and the experience of our team of former New Jersey prosecutors and public defenders to the task of defending your legal rights.

Contact us at (877) 450-8301 or online now.

Sexual Assault in New Jersey

While many legal systems craft sexual assault and sexual abuse laws around the concept of consent and inability to provide consent, New Jersey’s sex crime laws are based on the nature of sexual contact. Our state’s primary statutes defining sexual assault are in NJ Rev Stat § 2C:14-1-4 (2019).

In New Jersey, sexual assault is a criminal act of sexual penetration. “Sexual penetration” means “vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio or anal intercourse between persons or insertion of the hand, finger or object into the anus or vagina either by the actor or upon the actor’s instruction.”

New Jersey defines “criminal sexual contact” as “an intentional touching by the victim or actor, either directly or through clothing, of the victim’s or actor’s intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or sexually arousing the actor. Sexual contact of the actor with himself must be in view of the victim whom the actor knows to be present.”

An alleged offense may be charged as aggravated sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual contact if:

  • The victim is at least 13 years old but not yet 16 years old and the actor is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree (grandparent-, brother/sister- or grandchild-in-law), or the actor has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim by virtue of the actor’s legal, professional or occupational status, or the actor is a resource family parent, a guardian or stands in loco parentis within the household.
  • The act is committed during the commission or attempted commission of any of several crimes, including robbery, carjacking and kidnapping.
  • The actor is armed with a weapon or threatens to use a weapon or object.
  • The actor uses coercion.
  • The victim is physically, intellectually or mentally helpless or incapacitated or is incapable of understanding the distinctively sexual nature of the conduct, providing consent or understanding or exercising the right to refuse to engage in the conduct.

Aggravated sexual assault also applies to any act of sexual penetration with a victim who is less than 13 years old.

Aggravated sexual assault (penetration) is a crime of the first degree, which means it carries the harshest punishments allowed by the state, including the possibility of 25 years to life in prison.

Aggravated criminal sexual contact is a crime of the third degree, which is punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine up to $15,000.

Sexual assault and criminal sexual contact (not “aggravated”) are quite similar but lesser crimes.

Sexual Abuse in New Jersey

Sexual abuse generally refers to an act of sexual contact or sexual penetration between a child under the age of 18 years old and an adult. An individual accused of sexually abusing a child in New Jersey may face a first or second-degree sexual assault charge or a criminal sexual contact charge depending on the details of the allegation.

Under the law, an act of sexual contact with a victim who is less than 13 years old is chargeable as sexual assault if the actor is at least four years older than the victim. A sexual assault or criminal sexual contact charge may also be filed if the victim is at least 13 but not yet 16 years old and the actor is at least four years older than the victim, or the victim is 16 but not yet 18 and the actor is related or has supervisory capacity over the victim.

The law covers additional circumstances of sexual assault and criminal sexual contact, as well, such as sex acts involving teachers and students.

A parent or guardian who knowingly permits or acquiesces to sexual abuse of a child by another person may also face criminal charges but may have a valid defense if the parent feared for their own safety so as to undermine their ability to protect the child.

Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree. Criminal sexual contact is a crime of the fourth degree.

Exposing oneself for sexual gratification is “lewdness,” which is a crime of the fourth degree.

New Jersey Programs for Victim of Sexual Violence

If you are the victim of a sexual attack, the county where you live in New Jersey may offer a program that provides a range of services to survivors of sexual violence by trained and compassionate advocates. There is a 24-hour statewide hotline at 1-800-601-7200 or you can search online for a local “sexual violence program.”

These programs provide a confidential sexual violence advocate available 24 hours a day to victims who are 13 years old or older. The advocate can accompany you through all medical, legal and court procedures. The confidential sexual violence advocate can provide emotional support and information to you and your significant others, as well as explain your options.

If the assault happened within the past five days and you are over the age of 13, the county Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) can be activated. A SART consists of a forensic nurse examiner, a confidential sexual violence advocate and a law enforcement officer. They gather evidence of the sexual assault along with providing medical care and emotional support.

There is no time limit on reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement.

Contact a Lawyer if Charged with Sexual Assault or Criminal Sexual Contact

If you have been charged with a sex crime in New Jersey, you need legal representation as soon as possible, regardless of what occurred between you and the alleged victim. Every defendant has a right to a robust legal defense, and the state is required to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt before a guilty verdict and punishment can be handed down.

The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can defend your rights and seek the best available outcome for you regarding the charges you face. We have offices throughout New Jersey. Contact us at (877) 450-8301 or online now for a free initial consultation about how we can help you.