Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 in Criminal Laws, Employment | 0 comments

Two kinds of offensive and intimidating behaviors, which many individuals, more so women, have been made to suffer, are sexual harassment and sexual assault. Though both are illegal, the nature of sexual harassment is civil, while that of sexual assault is criminal. Both, however, cause victims emotional and/or psychological trauma, humiliation and, sometimes, fear. Both illegal behaviors also involve totally different acts, making each unwanted intrusion clearly distinguishable as either harassment or assault.

According to the website of these New York employment lawyers, sexual harassment may be considered a form of sexual discrimination and, therefore, a direct and one of the serious violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is enforced by the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. It may constitute repeated (since a single act may not be considered sexual harassment unless it is serious or harmful) coercive acts, bullying or gender discrimination (whether verbal, non-verbal, physical or written) that may lead to unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching or brushing up against someone, offensive expressions or gestures, sexual comments, innuendoes or jokes, requests for sexual favors, display of posters, screen savers, drawing or any other object that has a sexual connotation.

States and the federal government recognize two types of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. In a hostile work environment, the workplace is made intimidating and offensive to the victim, to the point that it interferes with the victim’s work performance. Harassment may be committed by someone in authority (such as a supervisor) or by a co-employee.

In the quid pro quo type, the harassment is done by someone in authority (e.g. a supervisor, a manager, etc.), who has the power to hire an applicant or promote an employee if given sexual favors in return. Refusal to grant the sexual favors will lead to non-hiring, non-promotion or denial of benefits to which the employee is entitled.

At the first obvious signs of sexual harassment, the victim should inform the harasser of the unwanted acts and inform his/her employer of the illegal behavior being committed against him/her. If the harassment does not stop, then the victim may file a complaint, first with the EEOC (within 180 days after the harassment was committed), and then with the state or federal government.

Though a co-employee (who is guilty of the acts of harassment) may be investigated and punished by the employer, the one who is really more liable is the employer, especially if he/she does not take measures, or fails through negligence, to stop the illegal act. The court-ordered penalties that may be imposed on the employer may include:

  • Payment covering lost wages and benefits (present and future) to the victim
  • Compensation for the anguish and emotional pain suffered by the victim
  • Punitive Damages which serves as punishment to the employer
  • Reinstatement of the victim or promotion, if required by the court
  • Payment of court and lawyer’s fees

Punishment to the employee or supervisor (guilty of the act), which may be imposed by the employer, may include: warning or reprimand, demotion or transfer, reduction of salary, counseling, training, monitoring, suspension or even termination.

Sexual assault, on the other hand, constitutes intentional sexual contact with threats, force or intimidation, and which the victim does not consent to, according to the website of Kohler Hart Powell, SC. Actions considered as sexual assault includes rape, attempted rape, forced oral or anal sex (sodomy), forced kissing, groping, fondling, or efforts to commit any of these acts on the victim (some states include stalking and display of pictures depicting child pornography as forms of sexual assault).

Victims of sexual assault can file a criminal charge against his/her assailant. If found guilty, the judge will consider all mitigating and aggravating factors concerning the crime and the criminal, to decide the terms of the sentence, which includes imprisonment and fines (the more serious the crime, the longer the incarceration and the higher the fines).

Mitigating factors, which may lessen the severity of the punishment, can include the defendant’s exposure to violence or experience of sexual abuse. Aggravating factors, however, which can worsen the punishment, includes the severity of the crime committed and the defendant’s criminal history.

Whether the case is sexual harassment or sexual assault, seeking legal advice is always a very wise move to make. A good, competent lawyer will be able to help the victim analyze his/her case and help him/her decide what course of action is best to take and it can make the difference once in court.

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