When Does Sexual Harassment Become Sexual Abuse?
Sexual harassment and abuse can encompass a variety of behaviors in varying degrees of severity. If you are facing a claim of sexual harassment or abuse it will be imperative to have an experienced attorney to help you navigate these claims.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a much broader term than sexual abuse and encompasses three main areas.
The first is sexual coercion, in which there are implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent on sexual cooperation. This is legally titled “quid pro quo harassment” and a classic example is the pressure of a boss to “sleep with me or you’re fired.” While this is widely recognized, it’s actually the rarest form of sexual harassment.
Unwanted sexual attention
The second area is unwanted sexual attention: repeatedly pressuring someone for a date, or unwanted touching, kissing, hugging, or sexual behavior. To constitute sexual harassment, the advances must be unpleasant and unwelcome to the recipient according to the Supreme Court.
The third and most common form of sexual harassment is not sexual in nature; it is in fact termed as sexual harassment because it relates to sex- and gender-based discrimination, not sexual acts. Gender harassment can include stereotyping based on gender, the use of crude terms or images, or just sexist remarks.
Sexual harassment is a crime, particularly more severe cases of gender discrimination, fondling, or repeated pressure and coercion. The situation does not need to develop into a full-blown sexual assault to be considered a crime. Many cases of sexual harassment, namely in the workplace, have been brought to court or settled outside of court with the claimant receiving a settlement.
The Differences Between Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault
Sexual abuse and sexual assault are slightly different crimes. Sexual assault occurs when one adult subjects another adult to sexual acts without consent. Sexual abuse usually involves a vulnerable party or a child and occurs when an adult subjects a vulnerable population to a sexual act without consent. Children can never consent to sexual acts, so it is automatically abuse if the case involves a child.
Behaviors that fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment can also constitute assault or abuse. It is a very nuanced area of law, meaning it’s difficult for a layperson to establish the differences.
Penalties and Laws for Harassment and Abuse
The penalties for these crimes vary drastically depending on the situation and the evidence. If convicted, one may face punishment anywhere between a $1,000 fine (harassment) and imprisonment for up to 14 years (assault). Chapters 1, 2, and 9 of the California Penal Code outline the laws surrounding these offenses, but you may be charged with a crime if you commit any of the acts in the definitions above.
Workplaces are reportedly one of the most common sites for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law in California. Additionally, California laws allow employers to fire you “at will”—i.e., without having to state a cause—unless your individual contract dictates something different. If you are found to have committed sexual harassment in the workplace, you can be terminated from your place of work.
What To Do If You’ve Been Accused
If you have been accused of sexual abuse, you should enlist the help of a defense attorney immediately. You have a right to decline to speak to authorities until you have arranged representation. These charges can be difficult to navigate, and a criminal record can be life-changing. Because of this, it’s highly advised that you employ an attorney that is experienced and skilled in the area of defending sexual harassment or abuse claims.
Werksman, Jackson & Quinn LLP have empathetic and dedicated lawyers that will do their best to fight for justice on your behalf. Contact us today at (213) 688-0460 to access skilled representation.