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What Is the Difference Between Child Molestation and Child Sexual Abuse?

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No one wants to think about their child being harmed in any way. But if you suspect your child has been abused, understanding the terms and their legal definitions is essential in building a case against the abuser. Read on for what you need to know.

What Is Child Molestation?

Child molestation involves several sexual activities that occur between an adult and a child, usually under the age of 14. The argument cannot be made that the activity was consensual, as legally, a child cannot give consent. This does not necessarily mean that sexual intercourse took place. It can mean that the adult looked at the child’s intimate parts for their own pleasure or showed the adult’s genitalia to the child. Any touching, fondling, or kissing can be considered molestation.

It’s a serious charge in Pennsylvania. Molestation that involves rape can be charged as a first-degree felony, while even slight penetration of a minor’s orifices can lead to first-degree felony charges of aggravated indecent assault or other types of indecent conduct with a minor.

If someone is convicted of a felony in the molestation category, they could be sent to prison for up to 20 years and have to pay up to $25,000 in fines. Second-degree felony convictions could result in 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines, while third-degree felony convictions could lead to 7 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. These are for first-time convictions; subsequent convictions can lead to harsher punishments.

In addition, convictions require the offender to register as a sex offender. How long that registration is maintained depends on the severity of the convictions.

What Is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania does not have a specific definition to provide victims with the broadest legal protection. It includes numerous prohibited sexual acts when they’re committed with, in front of, or against a child. This includes filming or photographing any sexual acts or exposing a minor to such films or photos. Child sexual abuse applies to minors under the age of 18.

The consequences of being convicted of child sexual abuse are severe. It can be a second-degree felony, leading to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000;

third-degree felony convictions can lead to a sentence of 7 years and a maximum fine of $15,000. Note that these consequences are for first convictions. Subsequent convictions can be assigned harsher outcomes.

Because the laws are complex between molestation and child sexual abuse, it’s highly recommended that you work with an experienced sexual abuse attorney.

What Is the Civil Statute of Limitations for Child Molestation or Child Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania?

When molestation or sexual abuse is committed against someone under 18, the victim has until they turn 50 years old to pursue the case. This differs from adult sexual abuse because adults have 12 years to pursue a case.

What Are the Warning Signs of Child Molestation or Child Sexual Abuse?

They can be hard to observe, not least because abusers often warn or threaten children about bad things that will happen if the child reports the abuse. Note that no list will cover everything. The key is to monitor your child for changes in behavior that could indicate something is going on.

Some things to watch for include:

Physical symptoms:

  • Bloody or torn underwear
  • Bleeding, bruises, swelling, pain, or itching in genital areas
  • Discomfort when walking or sitting
  • Recurring yeast or urinary tract infections

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Nightmares
  • Bed-wetting (if this wasn’t previously a problem or had previously stopped)
  • Appears depressed or in shock
  • Withdraws from others
  • Knows more than they should about sexual activities
  • Either refuses to bathe or wants to bathe all the time
  • Becomes too protective of siblings (which may result from the abuser threatening to hurt the siblings if the victim tells)

How Could My Child Be Abused When I Make Sure They’re Never Alone with a Stranger?

Unfortunately, stranger danger isn’t the greatest risk when it comes to child molestation or child sexual abuse. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that more than 90 percent of minor victims knew their abuser, whether it was a family member, church pastor, team coach, or babysitter. Even more unfortunate is that the abuser doesn’t necessarily have to be an adult to cause harm.

When the abuser knows the victim, it’s easy for them to manipulate the minor through threats to other family members or friends, or they’ll threaten the victim themselves with worse outcomes if they tell anyone what’s happened. They may also shame the child for not enjoying the activity.

It’s bad enough to think a stranger would do this to someone’s child. It’s even harder to think it’s someone in a position of trust with the family. Regardless, it’s vital that the abuser be brought to justice to prevent them from being able to abuse again. In this regard, schools, daycares, camps, and other organizations that employ those who harm children can and should be brought to justice through civil lawsuits.

What if My Child Was Molested or Sexually Abused?

Call Andreozzi + Foote at 866-311-8640 for a free, confidential consultation. Our team of knowledgeable, experienced child molestation and sexual abuse lawyers understands how devastating this is and how important it is to seek justice.

This is an emotional time, and we’re here not just to work on your case but to support you as you go through this complex, complicated process. Our focus is getting justice for your child, so you and they can move forward with healing.

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