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Sexual Assault and Harassment

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are two types of crimes that are illegal in the United States. In this article, we’ll define the terms “sexual assault” and “sexual harassment.”

Key Takeaways

  • Sexual assault is any nonconsensual sexual act
  • Consent must be affirmative and freely given by a person with the capacity to consent
  • People who may not legally be able to consent include the disabled, unconscious or intoxicated people, minors, and more
  • Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct on the basis of a person’s sex
  • Unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature constitute harassment when  they create a hostile work environment and/or are used as the basis for employment decisions

What Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is defined by the United States Department of Justice as “any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.” 

Consent is agreement or permission. While every state has its own exact definition of consent, it is generally considered to require three elements:

  • Affirmative consent - Overt actions and words indicating an agreement to sexual acts
  • Freely given consent - Consent offered of a person’s own free will without being induced by fraud, coercion, violence, or threat of violence 
  • Capacity to consent - Being legally able to consent

There are several situations in which a person may not be considered able to consent. These also vary from state to state but may include:

  • Physical disability - People with a physical disability, incapacity, or another form of helplessness 
  • Consciousnesses - Sleeping or being sedated, strangulated, or suffering from physical trauma
  • Developmental disability - A developmental disability or another form of mental incapacitation such as a traumatic brain injury
  • Intoxication - Beind under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Relationship to the perpetrator - If the alleged perpetrator was in a position of authority over the victim at the time of the crime
  • Vulnerability - Being elderly, ill, or dependent on others for care 
  • Age - Every state has its own laws for how old a person must be in order to be able to consent. Some state laws indicate that the age difference between the perpetrator and victim also affects the age of consent.

If you have experienced sexual assault, you may file a civil lawsuit against the offender in order to recover damages. You can also pursue a criminal lawsuit to punish the offender with jail time, fines, or both. To learn more about the legal action you can take, it is recommended that you speak to an experienced sexual assault lawyer

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct on the basis of a person’s sex. It is made illegal by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment on the basis of sex.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment;
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance by creating an intimidating hostile or sexually offensive work environment.”

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or an educational institution, reported it through their stated procedures, and they did not take action to stop it – or retaliated against you in any way for making a complaint - you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Read this article to learn about how to sue for sexual harassment.

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Featured Sexual Assault Lawyers

Horn Wright, LLP

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The Law Firm of Frank Stanley, PC

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The Law Office of Judith A Baxter P.L.C.

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Law Office of Edwin Burnett

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Aldrich & Brunot, LLC

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Horn Wright, LLP

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