The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect defines child sexual assault as: "Contacts or interactions between a child and an adult when the child is being used for sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or another person when the perpetrator or another person is in a position of power or control over the victim." Sexual abuse has been defined to include inappropriate physical contact, making a child view sexual acts or pornography, using a child in making pornography, or exposing an adult's genitals to a child.
In some states, social workers, medical professionals, clergy, foster parents, attorneys, and camp counselors are required to report abuse. Some states require any person who suspects abuse to report it to authorities. The time when a complaint may be filed, called the statute of limitations, varies by state. One state law sets the statute of limitations on serious sex abuse of a child at age 31 for the victim in criminal cases and age 20 for civil litigation. In another state, the time period is defined according as a certain number of years after the victim turns 18. There is a trend toward extending the statute of limitations in such cases because research has shown that victims typically develop psychological coping, or blocking, mechanisms which may cause them to suppress the abuse or prevent their understanding of the cause of their trauma.
The following is an example of a state statute dealing with sexual molestation:
"16-6-4. Child molestation; aggravated child molestation.
- A person commits the offense of child molestation when he or she does any immoral or indecent act to or in the presence of or with any child under the age of 16 years with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the person.
- A person convicted of a first offense of child molestation shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than five nor more than 20 years. Upon such first conviction of the offense of child molestation, the judge may probate the sentence; and such probation may be upon the special condition that the defendant undergo a mandatory period of counseling administered by a licensed psychiatrist or a licensed psychologist. However, if the judge finds that such probation should not be imposed, he or she shall sentence the defendant to imprisonment; provided, further, that upon a defendant's being incarcerated on a conviction for such first offense, the Department of Corrections shall provide counseling to such defendant. Upon a second or subsequent conviction of an offense of child molestation, the defendant shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than ten years nor more than 30 years or by imprisonment for life; provided, however, that prior to trial, a defendant shall be given notice, in writing, that the state intends to seek a punishment of life imprisonment. Adjudication of guilt or imposition of sentence for a conviction of a second or subsequent offense of child molestation, including a plea of nolo contendere, shall not be suspended, probated, deferred, or withheld.
- A person commits the offense of aggravated child molestation when such person commits an offense of child molestation which act physically injures the child or involves an act of sodomy.
- A person convicted of the offense of aggravated child molestation shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than ten nor more than 30 years. Any person convicted under this Code section of the offense of aggravated child molestation shall, in addition, be subject to the sentencing and punishment provisions of Code Sections 17-10-6.1 and 17-10-7."