Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child (whether by asking or pressuring, or by other means), indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.), child grooming, child sexual exploitation or using a child to produce child pornography.

Child sexual abuse can occur in a variety of settings, including home, school, or work (in places where child labor is common). Child marriage is one of the main forms of child sexual abuse; UNICEF has stated that child marriage “represents perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls”. The effects of child sexual abuse can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, propensity to further victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems. Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances, such as “friends” of the family, babysitters, or neighbors; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases. Most child sexual abuse is committed by men; studies on female child molesters show that women commit 14% to 40% of offenses reported against boys and 6% of offenses reported against girls.

The word pedophile is commonly applied indiscriminately to anyone who sexually abuses a child, but child sexual offenders are not pedophiles unless they have a strong sexual interest in prepubescent children.Under the law, child sexual abuse is often used as an umbrella term describing criminal and civil offenses in which an adult engages in sexual activity with a minor or exploits a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification. The American Psychological Association states that “children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults”, and condemns any such action by an adult: “An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act which never can be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior.

Child molestation is any activity where an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. There are many different situations and instances that can fall under this title. The molestation of a child is considered a very serious crime and is often punished with jail time, fines, and lengthy probation. Often those convicted of molesting a child are required to register as a sex offender, making housing and job searches challenging.

Child molestation is not the same as sexual assault. It mostly applies to children under the age of 14 but can be broadened to apply to all minors. Also, it usually does not take consent into consideration. Because children under the age of 14 are not legally able to give consent to participate in sexual activities their consent usually cannot be held up in court. This policy is also influenced by the fact that in many child molestation cases the adult was in a position of power in the child’s life, which could influence the child’s consent.

What Qualifies as Child Molestation

It has been estimated that one in ten boys and one in five girls will experience some form of sexual molestation by the time they reach the age of 14. Most victims of sexual abuse are abused by someone they know, be it a family member or family acquaintance. There are a number of situations that can be classified as the molestation of a child. These include:

  • Groping, touching, or lewdly interacting with a minor
  • Having any form of sexual contact with a child under the age of 14
  • Touching a child in a manner that could be classified as lascivious or lewd
  • Using a position of influence or power to coerce a child into performing sexual acts
  • Using inappropriate or sexually suggestive language towards or around a minor

Any of the above situations and activities can qualify as child molestation. They can range in severity, but all are punishable by the law.

Child Molestation Law

Child molestation is a very serious sex crime that can expose a defendant to extended jail time and a lifetime of stigma. The Department of Justice defines child molestation as contacts or interactions such as inappropriate physical contact between a child and adult where the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator. Allegations of child molestation are taken very seriously by law enforcement, but they must also be treated carefully, since the justice system must aim to balance the protection of children with the vindication of those who are wrongly accused.

Understanding Child Molestation Charges

Child molestation refers to a wide variety of activities perpetrated against children by adults that have sexual undertones. While sexual activity clearly falls within the scope of child molestation, the crime also applies to other forms of inappropriate touching, including non-penetrating contact, exposure of a minor to pornography, or convincing a minor to view sexual acts. When the minor is the instrument of the perpetrator for purposes of sexual gratification or stimulation, the actions may rise to the level of molestation.

Allegations of child molestation may be reported by the child, or they may arise in a mandatory reporting context. In many states, certain professionals are legally obligated to report suspicions of child molestation to law enforcement. These include social workers, teachers, clergy, and medical professionals, amongst others. Suspicions of child molestation may arise when a child reports abuse or when the child exhibits symptoms suggesting abuse, such as increased emotional outbursts, physical bruises, or a significant change in personality. Mandatory reporting is required even when an eventual investigation determines that the allegations or suspicions are unfounded.

Defending Against Child Molestation Allegations

Although it is our obligation as a society to take child molestation charges very seriously, false reporting of child molestation is more common than many people realize. In the context of family disputes, contentious custody battles, and emotional or psychological disorders among children, false allegations of molestation by a child can occur. In this context, the best defense is to establish the falsity of the charges. This is easiest to do if a defendant can show that he or she could not have committed the alleged molestation, such as by showing that he or she was not alone with the child at the time alleged. Alternatively, the defendant may attempt to show that the child has a motive to bring false charges or has a history of doing so. However, attacking the character of a child can be a risky endeavor, since this approach can come across as too aggressive.

Alternatively, if you have been accused of child molestation and believe that criminal acts have occurred against the victim, but you did not commit them, another possible defense is to establish who the real perpetrator was. Due to the emotionally traumatic nature of child molestation, children may have altered or repressed memories about their experiences that prevent them from accurately remembering what has occurred. With the help of a trained psychologist and expert witnesses, a defendant may be able to shed light on the true perpetrator to a crime, or at least establish enough doubt about his or her own guilt that a prosecutor cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.