Understanding Sexual Abuse in California

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Sexual abuse causes victims to experience many negative effects, including physical trauma, psychological trauma, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Victims of sexual abuse tend to experience chronic issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder, adverse health behaviors, and emotional problems. 

However, those falsely accused of committing sexual abuse can also face a myriad of negative legal, financial, and reputational consequences.

If you face sexual abuse charges, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn about the state’s sexual abuse laws, definitions, and the punishment for sexual abuse charges.

Contact the San Diego County criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, at 619-332-0525 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. 

California’s Sexual Abuse Definition

What is sexual abuse? Criminal laws vary by state, so what constitutes sexual abuse in one state may not mean the same thing in another state. 

California Penal Code §243.4 encompasses the state’s sexual battery and assault laws. To understand California’s sexual abuse laws, it is essential to first address sexual battery.

In California, sexual battery is the following:

  • Touching the intimate part of another person,
  • Against that person’s will,
  • For the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse.

So what is sexual abuse? In California, sexual abuse occurs when one commits a sexual battery against another. But the inquiry does not stop there.

What Is Considered Sexual Abuse in California?

Sexual abuse also encompasses a myriad of non-consensual, harmful conduct directed toward a victim’s sexual characteristics.

In California, you can be charged and convicted of sexual abuse even if you did not have any physical contact with the alleged victim.

Sexual abuse also occurs when the perpetrator intends to do the following:

  • Injure,
  • Hurt,
  • Humiliate,
  • Intimidate, or 
  • Cause pain to a victim’s intimate parts. 

Therefore, you can be charged with sexual battery even if you are not motivated by sexual gratification or pleasure. 

What Is the Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse?

Sexual assault and sexual abuse are often used interchangeably. However, in the criminal and legal setting, the difference between the two tends to lie in the victim’s characteristics.

Generally, sexual abuse refers to sexual offenses against minors under 18 that go beyond one single incident. It often refers to a repeated pattern of behavior involving sexual contact with a minor.

Types Of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse charges can involve the following types of claims:

While there is overlap in the elements of these crimes, each offense has a unique legal definition. 

Degrees of Sexual Abuse and Punishments 

Generally, those convicted of sexual assault without aggravating factors can face misdemeanor or felony charges. 

A misdemeanor sexual battery conviction carries the following penalties:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, or up to 1 year in jail if there was an aggravating factor;
  • Possible probation;
  • A fine of up to $2,000, or if the victim was your employee, a fine of up to $3,000; and
  • Tier I sex offender registration for 10 years.

A felony sexual battery conviction carries the following penalties:

  • Prison for a period of 2, 3, or 4 years, or if the victim is seriously hurt, an extra 3 to 5 years in prison;
  • Possible probation;
  • A fine of up to $10,000; and
  • Tier III sex offender registration for life.

Further, a conviction for the continuous abuse of a child can include the following:

  • State prison for 6 to 16 years,
  • A fine of up to $10,000, and
  • Lifetime registration as a sex offender. 

In addition to these repercussions, those convicted of sexual abuse in California often face an array of collateral consequences. 

Are You Facing Allegations of Sexual Assault or Abuse?

If you were recently arrested for a sex crime in California, it is imperative that you work with an experienced sex crimes attorney who will take your case as seriously as you do.

At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we have handled well over 100 jury trials, some of which involved incredibly serious allegations, including many trials involving sexual abuse.

We have a deep understanding of what the prosecution needs to prove and how to prevent them from doing so.

To schedule a free consultation with a San Diego County sex abuse lawyer today, call 619-332-0525. You can also connect with us through our online contact form

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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