Understanding Sexual Assault vs Sexual Harassment

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Mar 26

Lewis & Laws

Understanding Sexual Assault vs Sexual Harassment

by Lewis & Laws

Understanding Sexual Assault vs Sexual Harassment

The media has been inundated in recent months with stories of women across the nation who have been victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. As more women come forward, we are finally getting the full scope of the problem - and it is terrifying. Unfortunately, among most Americans, there seems to be some confusion between what is legally sexual harassment and what is sexual assault.

The most essential difference between harassment and assault is that assault involves some form of physical contact. Sexual assault involves unwanted physical contact with an intimate body part of the victim. This can include groping, touching, or a forcible sex act. Sexual harassment is a behavior, usually verbal or nonverbal that can cross into physical sexual assault quickly.

What is Sexual Harassment?

In numerous cases, sexual harassment starts with unwelcome sexual advances, that can be verbal or physical in nature. It is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It often occurs in workplace environments and can interfere with the victim’s ability to perform his or her work. The harasser can be a boss, a coworker, or a non-employee and the victim can be anyone. Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Sexually explicit verbal comments
  • Sending obscene or sexually explicit media
  • Physical touching of an intimate nature, such as rubbing an employee’s shoulders or touching a co-worker’s butt

Sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment and can cause employees to feel as if they must endure this harassment in order to keep their jobs, be promoted, or receive their pay. Many are even led to believe that they must submit to this behavior as a part of the job.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault involves intentional sexual contact with the victim against their will. Sexual assault often occurs through threats, intimidation, or abuse of authority. It can also occur when the victim is unable to consent, due to drugs or alcohol. Examples of sexual assault include:

  • Rape
  • Sodomy
  • Groping breasts
  • Forcible touching

Understanding Consent

In both cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault, the missing component is “consent”. So what is consent? Consent means to give permission for something to occur. This means that the participant must actively choose to participate. If the victim was intoxicated or unconscious, then consent can not have been given. When understanding consent, consider these important points:

  • Consent can always be withdrawn
  • Consent is the presence of a YES - not the absence of a NO
  • Ask if you have consent
  • Consent is ongoing, not just a one time decision
  • Consider your privilege or power when obtaining consent

With consent, it is important to remember that the person must say yes and that this consent must be given throughout. At any time, he or she is allowed to change their mind and withdraw consent. No means no - but the absence of a no does not mean yes.

Have you or someone you love been arrested and charged with a sex crime? Contact the Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws

If you have been charged with a sex crime, it is imperative that you speak to an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible in order to protect your rights as well as your future. The expert defense team at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws, PLLC vigorously defend the rights of individuals facing a multitude of charges in Seattle, Bellevue, and Kirkland. Contact us today at 206.209.0608 or fill out our online contact form to get more information or to get a free case review!



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