Specifically and explicitly: what constitutes abuse, molestation or sexual crime?

In newspaper accounts recently a mother was given five years prison for abusing a child that was bruised, burnt, made comatose and permanently brain damaged. Another woman was given a short suspended sentence after her partner beat her child to death (with her passive assistance).

In another newspaper story a man was revealed to have been in prison for 32 years for a sexual offence against a child and a sex offender who was released into the community after serving time has been the target of community retribution.

What exactly do the terms molestation, abuse, harassment and sexual crime mean? In specfic terms what do the perpetrators of these crimes do and why are they treated worse than murderers? Is there a degree of relativity involved whereby the seriousness of the crime is decided by the victim? I assume that when rape has occurred it is referred to as rape and not by any of the terms I have mentioned. My question is intended to cover molestation of adults as well as children.

O.k., from the way I understand it the only difference between sexual molestation and abuse (both of which are sexual crimes) is how often they occur. Sexual molestation happen once or twice before it is dicovered, sexual abuse is sexual molestation that has happened over a period of months or even years, usually by someone in a position of trust to the victim.

Term sexual molestation is usual used when a child is involved. Young children (toddlers to maybe about 8 or 9 years old) are to physically small to be penetrated by a adult male penis, so they are usually forced to preform oral sex, touched in a inappropriate manner, and/or made to watch the adult masterbate. Children that are pre-teens can be penetrated anally and/or vaginally, but they can also be victim to the same treatments mentioned above. Once a child is an adolescent, the line between sexual molestation, rape and sexual consent gets fuzzy. In general, rape is defined as when the victim is penetrated against her (or his) will, this sometimes dissolves into a my-word-against-yours situation and since teens are pictured by the media as sex-crazed, things get even cloudier as to consent. Sexual molestation is considered any sexual treatment other than penetration by the penis.

For which legal jurisdiction do you expect an answer? Country / state or province / city.

The words news reports use to describe a crime may not coincide with the legal name of the crime. For example, in my state, there is no crime called “molestation”, yet newspapers often say that a person is accused of molesting a child.It also works in reverse- that is, it’s not obvious from the name alone what the crime consists of. For example, in my state there is a crime called “course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree”. Doesn’t sound like rape, but it ** must** include either sexual intercourse,oral or anal sexual contact,or the insertion of a finger or a foreign object into the vagina,rectum,urethra or penis and the victim must be under 11, so it can include rape.
As to why the perpetrators are treated worse than murderers, I’m not sure they are.Sentences depend on what a person is convicted of, not necessarily what they actually did.If I try to kill someone, but am only convicted of assault, I get sentenced for assault,not attempted murder. You gave an example of a woman who abused a child who was left brain damaged ( but apparently alive). She obviously wasn’t convicted of murder. Your other example was of a woman whose partner beat her child to death, with the woman’s “passive assistance”. I don’t know what her passive assistance was, exactly, but if she got a suspended sentence, she almost certainly wasn’t convicted of murder.

Arnold Winkelried: I knew when I posted my question that laws are not the same from state to state in the U.S. or from counry to country in the world. But the term “sexual abuse” is heard so much in Western countries nowadays that I thought there might be a Western consensus of opinion as to what it meant.

It seems to me from the answers here that it is possible for people to spend long amounts of time in prison for sexual offences other than straight out rape. As a teenager something happened to me which I didn’t talk about for years but which I considered would come under the heading “mild molestation”. I was surprised that the person I eventually told considered it to be more serious although I was not psychologically scarred by it as far as I know. That’s where I got the idea that sex crimes are seen primarily from the victim’s point of view and all victims are different.

I bought my little niece a South Park lollipop recently. She is 9 but she could have been 4, 5 any age. As we walked down the street I began to wonder what was appropriate conversation was for us for regarding South Park. I began to feel uncomfortable - as though I could be seen to be an extremely seedy adult. I think a lot of adults are confused about such things nowadays. So many people are in prison for vague sex offences yet Basic Instinct finds it way to television in family viewing time and pre-teen children discuss sex at a level unknown to children in the 1960s.

Speaking only for my own state ( but it probably applies almost everywhere), while the names of the offenses might be vague,( and newspaper reporting certainly is) the definitions are actually very specific.

It certainly is possible for people to spend long periods of time in prison for something other than “straight out rape”, but to an extent, that depends on the definition of rape. In my state,if A forces B to perform oral or anal sex against B’s will, even at gunpoint, A would not have committed rape, A would have committed first degree sodomy .If A and C hold B down and insert a broomstick into B’s body, that would be yet another crime. Although they are three different crimes, I don’t see any reason why the two variations should be treated differently than rape. Other sexual crimes (such as the ones covering touching) are treated much differently. In fact, the only ways I can think of for someone to serve 32 years for a sex offense here are:

  1. for the conviction to include rape or its equivalent
  2. for the person to have been convicted of more than one crime, and the sentences are run consecutively ( ex 4 convictions-4 8 year sentences, one after the other)
  3. for the person to have enough prior convictions to raise the sentence ( I recently came across a burglar with a 12years to life sentence - usually the maximum would be 15 years,but it was his fourth felony conviction)

There probably is a consensus in everyday speech,and that does seem to me to be very vague,covering any remotely sexual act that’s inappropriate in any way.That’s part of the reason laws are so explicit in their definitions. If there was just a law prohibiting sexual abuse, with no definition (or a vague one} of what sexual abuse was, you might end up with someone being arrested for touching a child, and getting a sentence that was based on a much worse offense ( or vice-versa)

A dictionary is a handy thing:

mo•lest \me-"lest\ [ME, fr. MF molester, fr. L molestare, fr. molestus burdensome, annoying; akin to L moles mass] (14c)
verb transitive
1 : to annoy, disturb, or persecute esp. with hostile intent or injurious effect
2 : to make annoying sexual advances to; esp : to force physical and usu. sexual contact on
mo•les•ta•tion 'mo-'les-"ta-shen, 'ma-, -les-\ noun
mo•lest•er \me-"les-ter\ noun

©1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. All rights reserved.

2abuse \e-"byuz\ abused abus•ing (15c)
verb transitive
1 : to put to a wrong or improper use <abuse a privilege>
2 obs : deceive
3 : to use so as to injure or damage : maltreat
4 : to attack in words : revile
abus•able -"byu-ze-bel\ adjective
abus•er noun

©1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. All rights reserved.

When the term “sexual abuse” is divorced from its legal definitions and used casually it can’t help but cause problems. Maybe I’ve become too familiar with computer manuals over the last years but I would say that if an author of such a book was to write about sexual crimes the whole thing would certainly become a lot clearer. That sounds strange I know. But I am still unable to gauge the seriousness of the unwelcome attention I once had - whether the person committed a crime or not. And I know people go to prison for far less than doing the things Doreen and Wyvern have described here. A few months ago, I read about a man who has been sent to prison for eight years for brief genital touching. When he claimed he did it inadvertently when administering first aid he was described as a deluded narcissist with grandiose ideas.

Sorry, G. Nome, guess I wasn’t clear. A person can go to prison here for touching, just not for 32 years.As to whether what happened to you was a crime, it’s hard to say without knowing what it was and the law where you live, but generally speaking,if someone touches you without your consent (and those below a certain age can’t consent) ,it’s against the law (even a non-sexual touch). How seriously it’s taken depends somewhat on the situation-if my boyfriend touches me, I tell him to stop,he stops and I complain to the police, I’ll get laughed out of the station, but if I’m a high school student and my teacher touches my breast , or if a complete stranger on the street starts hugging me , or if I’m a child , that’s taken more seriously.
The emotional impact on the victim isn’t the only reason sex crimes are considered serious. Even if the victim was not affected terribly emotionally,something was “taken” from them (their ability to decide who will touch them etc.).

What determines if the cops come is if someone complains. Otherwise they won’t know & they won’t do anything.

“A person can go to prison here for touching” Who are you talking about? True, an adult can for touching a child inappropiately, but a child is not sent to prison for touching an adult.

It’s a bit of a hijack, but I feel it’s relevant: Only last year a similar issue came up in Iceland, and it was a heated topic for months.

A man was charged with habitually raping his daughter for many years; most of the family sobbingly admitted to having seen warning signs and clues through the years.
The father even admits to finding his daughter sexually exciting and he does admit to masturbating in front of her frequently. He also admitted that he liked to look at her naked for sexual arousement and etc. Just no touching.

He got off!!! Not even a slap on the wrist! And this putz is still not only walking the streets, but he’s a professor in the University of Iceland!

The jude said that he was charged with the crime of rape, and that was not what he admitted to, hence he got off. For some reason it has proven difficult to get an appeal, but I don’t live in Iceland any more so I haven’t followed the preceding recently.

But I believe he is still a free man, because when I left the children’s rights groups all said they were giving up, the courts were too strong. Now they just want to have these terms cleared up so it doesn’t happen again.

— G. Raven

Different issue than whether it’s a crime. If my car is stolen and I don’t report it, the person who took it still committed a crime.

No, they aren’t,because children aren’t sent to prison. They can, however (if over 7,here), be arrested and eventually sent to the equivalent of prison if they touch anyone (adult or child) in a way that would constitute a crime if it were an adult doing the touching. In other words, if a child touches an adult who wants to be touched, the child can’t be arrested because there is no law prohibiting touching people with their consent.However, if an 11 year old grabs me on the train,what he’s done is just as illegal as if an adult grabbed me.

Doreen: I think the whole situation is sometimes a bit more complex. Right and wrong may not always become apparent by asking the question “did you want to be touched or not?”

I was brought up to obey adults and never interacted with them as equals until after high school. Even though I was rebellious as far as my parents were concered I was intimidated by teachers, the law, every other adult. So when I received unwelcome sexual advances from adults I displayed some kind of frozen, polite, obedience. From an onlooker’s point of view it probably seemed as if I was complicitous. I was so passive (yet so afraid) that my “willingness” could probably have been proven. It wasn’t until the situation reached the “make or break” stage that I got the courage to physically fight back. I am so sure that sort of reaction is common among some sorts of girls.

Complications must also have arisen because of changing sexual mores. The Sixties generation saw themselves as the be all and end all of sexual liberalism but children today hardly know what censorship is. In an English court case a few years ago a complaint of rape was dismissed because the victim had acted in what seemed a willing manner. But the girl was just acting in accordance with a sense of morality that was unknown to older (even sixites generation people). She had wanted to lose the attentions of a boy she had at first encouraged. When he pestered her she gave him a blowjob in exchange for the promise to leave her alone. When he came back and raped her it was seen as all her fault when in her own mind it was the last thing she intended.

So, there are two kinds of complications.

I was once part of a research study (conducted by UCSF in 1997) that asked about my sexual history. The subject of child abuse/molestation came up. The question was asked something like – When you were under 16 years of age did you ever engage in any sexual activity that involved anyone, who at the time, was at least five years older than you? It didn’t matter if the younger person thought it was consenual or not. The five year difference made it sexual abuse.

G. Nome,

If you post what state (province, etc.) you are located in, someone can probably look up the laws concerning sexual crimes in your jurisdiction, and possibly explain them. For instance, the laws concerning Sexual Offences in New York are in Article 130 of the Penal Law.

I think you got that from the post about the child touching the adult where I said “there’s no law prohibiting touching a person with their consent”. In a previous post,I had mentioned that children under a certain age *can’t *consent.
What happened to you may or may not have been a crime. I don’t know.What I do know is however complicit you may have appeared to an outsider, if you displayed a “frozen,polite, obedience”, the person making the advances surely knew you didn’t want them, and therefore it was wrong of them to do so whether it was a crime or not.

From a child’s rights site:

The view that pedophilia is a sickness and a crime is a Gardner (1991, p. 118) suggests that Western society’s is “excessively moralistic and
punitive” toward pedophiles. Gardner maintains that “the Draconian punishments meted
out to pedophiiles …go far beyond what I consider to be the gravity of the crime.” The
current prohibition of sex between adults and children is an “overreaction” which
Gardner traces to the Jews.

           It is of interest that of all the ancient peoples it may very well be that the Jews
           were the only ones who were punitive toward pedophiles.…Early Christian
           proscriptions against pedophilia appear to have been derived from the earlier
           teachings of the Jews, and our present overreaction to pedophilia represents an
           exaggeration of Judeo-Christian principles and is a significant factor operative in
           Western society's atypicality with regard to such activities (Gardner, 1992, pp. 46-7).

Is a reflection of Western society’s
present position on this subject. As a product of Western culture, Gardner (1992, p. 49)
states: “I too have come to believe that sexual activity between an adult and a child is a
reprehensible act. However, I do not believe that it is intrinsically so; in other
societies and other times it may not be psychologically detrimental.” “The determinant
as to whether the experience will be traumatic is the social attitude toward these encounters”
(Gardner 1992, pp. 670-1).

           Gardner (1991, p. 66) notes that he does not conduct therapy for sex abuse, unless he is
           "100 percent convinced that the abuse has indeed taken place." In addition, Gardner
           (1992, p. 535) states: "It is extremely important for therapists to appreciate that the child who
           has been genuinely abused may not need psychotherapeutic intervention" [italics in the

           There is a whole continuum that must be considered here: from those children who
           were coerced and who gained no pleasure (and might even be considered to have
           been raped) to those who enjoyed immensely (with orgastic responses) the sexual
           activities. (Gardner, 1992, p. 548):"

WHOA WHOA WHOA. Bullshit !!! This is from a CHILD’S RIGHTS SITE? And they condone the writings of a man who says that if a child is molested but orgasms, then it’s somehow not the same as if a child’s molested and does NOT orgasm? HOLY SHIT this is despicable :frowning: :frowning: :frowning:

Arousal to the point of orgasm DOESN’T CHANGE THE CRIME- all it does is mean that the perpetrator made the child have a sexual response. GRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Who WRITES THIS SHIT?



It does seem to me sometimes that the idea of child molestation is used as a tool by adults to abuse other adults. Accusing people of paedophilia has been spoken of as a modern day form of witch hunting.

I would be prepared to take responsibility for my passivity and agree that my molestor may have got the wrong impression from it whether it was due to fear on my part or not. Perhaps more children and teenagers should refuse to champion adults who seek over-punitive sentences for people accused of “inappropriate touching”. I think eight years is a bit much for a brief investigation of my genitals, anyway.

Heh. I knew as soon as I saw Gardner’s name where this one was going.

Off to Great Debates.