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Defining Sexual Assault and Abuse


Sexual assault

is when a person forces or pressures another person into unwanted sexual contact. This can be unwanted sexual penetration of the body or unwanted touching of private parts of the body. Some, but not all perpetrators force unwanted sexual contact when a victim is asleep, unconscious, under the influence of alcohol or drugs or physically helpless. Michigan law refers to sexual assault as “Criminal Sexual Conduct”.

Child sexual abuse or molestation

is when a person has sexual contact with a child. In most cases, children know their abusers. Perpetrators can be family members, neighbors, coaches, teachers, clergy members, caretakers, family friends, or other trusted adults. Examples of child sexual abuse might include sexual touching, penetration, manipulating the child to do something sexual, or taking graphic photos of children. Perpetrators use grooming behaviors to gain a child’s trust and slowly introduce sexual contact.


is sexual assault or sexual abuse that involves penetration of the body. This is when a perpetrator forces sexual penetration upon someone who does not want it, who is intoxicated, or who is not legally old enough to give consent. All of these examples are rape. The word rape isn’t used in Michigan law, but it is common for people to use this term.


describes sexual contact between family members who are too closely related to marry. While incest may occur between consenting adults, this is not common. The majority of all reported incest is between a child and a close adult family member, like a parent.

Other forms of sexual abuse

do not fit into neat categories. For example, sexual abuse includes a perpetrator having sex in front of children and making inappropriate comments to children. Another form of sexual abuse against adults and children is non-consensual pornography, sometimes called revenge pornography. This is when one person posts or publishes explicit or sexual photos of someone else without their consent.

Victim and Survivor

are both terms used to refer to someone who has been sexually assaulted. The word victim is most frequently used by the criminal justice and healthcare systems. It often refers to someone who has recently been assaulted or abused. The term survivor is often used by other helping professionals such as counselors and advocates. The word survivor is intended to recognize the courage and strength of someone who has been assaulted. Survivor also refers to the surviving family members of someone who has been murdered or died as the result of a crime. You get to choose the word that feels right to you. This site uses these words interchangeably.


is the term used on this site to refer to a person who sexually assaults another. Other terms that people use are abuser, assailant, or pedophile. The criminal justice system will use the term defendant if there has been a criminal charge and offender after there has been a conviction.


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