What’s the Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment?

Did you know that sexual misconduct is one of the most common forms of harassment in the workplace? Included in that is any form of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Unfortunately, these rates are even worse for women and people of color, with nearly 8 out of 10 women facing it during their lifetimes.

As an employee, it is your right to work in a safe environment free of sexual misconduct. To better understand those rights, it’s good for you to know the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Didn’t know that there was a difference, or are you simply looking to learn more? This guide should cover everything you need to know.

What Is Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as any act of a sexual nature that is unwanted or unwarranted. Alongside that, sexual harassment also encompasses discriminating against anyone based on their sexuality and/or gender expression.

For a more detailed and in-depth explanation (as well as how it might pertain to you), please visit the official Facts About Sexual Harassment info page by the U.S. EEOC.

Please note that anyone is capable of being either a victim or offender in a sexual harassment case.

There are two main types of sexual harassment. They go as follows.

Hostile Work Environment

Creating a negative work environment based on sexual misconduct is considered sexual harassment. The environment usually festers over time, so for it to be considered harassment it has to be continuous.

Creating a hostile environment can look like this:

  • Sending explicit, unwanted pictures or messages
  • Repetitive flirting even if asked to stop
  • Sexual innuendos
  • Offensive jokes about sexuality or gender

If you feel like you are a victim or know a victim of sexual harassment and are in the Pittsburgh area, please contact this sexual harassment lawyer.

Quid pro Quo

Simply put, quid pro quo means ‘this for that.’ If an employee is threatened by another based on sexual advances, it is a form of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

For example, if your boss is considering lowering your pay if you do not give in to sexual acts with them, it is harassment. The same goes for getting a raise. In essence, trading any type of sexual conduct for work-related events is harassment.

What Is Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a very serious crime and involves more than just trade-offs or jokes made. Assault, as defined by the Department of Justice (DOJ), is any sexual act that is intentional and physical, though nonconsensual. The acts involved are anything proscribed by the State, Federal, or Tribal law.

It is very important to know what consent means in this case, so please click here if you need a refresher. Consent also varies depending on the state, so check with your local state laws for more information.

Also, sexual harassment falls under civil law, whereas sexual assault is grounds for criminal law. The punishments are usually more severe.

Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment

The key difference?

Mostly the physical aspect of it. If there are jokes or rude comments made, threats, or tense environments facilitated, then it is sexual harassment. If it escalates to the physical level under no consent given (even for acts like groping, stroking, or brushing hair), it is sexual assault.

Knowing the signs of sexual assault is key to reporting it and keeping everyone safe.

What To Do When You Spot Either

The best thing you can do when you spot any type of sexual misconduct is to report it immediately. This complaint can be filed by anyone, even a third party such as if your coworker is facing harassment.

The sooner it stops, the sooner help can be granted. Lawyers are out there that can help solve any case, so please do not hesitate to reach out.

If you work in management, you need to know the sexual harassment laws of your state. From there, you need to set up a good presentation and punishment plan for sexual misconduct. Sexual harassment at work should never be tolerated.

More Legal Help

We hope this short guide helped you get a better sense of the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. The two might seem similar but are quite different.

If you would like more helpful tips regarding the law, please feel free to scroll through our wide array of topics.

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