The #MeToo movement created a reckoning in both the professional and public spheres. Far too many people had spent years fearful of speaking their truth, and this often resulted in inappropriate sexual behaviors going unpunished. If you’ve been exposed to such behaviors, you have rights and should exercise them. Of course, you may be confused about the differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault — and what they mean to your case.

Some people use these terms interchangeably, and this is understandable since there’s significant overlap. In fact, a single act by a perpetrator could constitute harassment and sexual assault. However, there are still significant differences between the two. Recognizing these distinctions will help you better understand how to respond appropriately. And if you still need help moving forward, our law firm is always available to assist.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Distinguishing the differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault begins with defining each. In most cases, sexual harassment is discussed in relation to employment law. That’s because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has specific rules regarding what constitutes harassment in the workplace. They define this illegal behavior as unwelcome behaviors based on a person’s sex.

While this definition may seem straightforward, it actually involves much more than you might expect. For instance, sexual harassment could include requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, unwanted physical contact, and a variety of other physical and verbal acts of a sexual nature. Even inappropriate sexual jokes fall under this umbrella. Also, sexual harassment can happen to anyone — regardless of gender.

It’s important to note that isolated incidents that aren’t serious in nature typically won’t qualify. Harassment in the workplace becomes illegal when either a hostile work environment is created, dealing with harassment becomes a condition of employment, or when adverse employment decisions result. Of course, these behaviors can occur outside of work as well. Whether they take place in or outside the office, though, they may rise to the level of sexual assault.

What Is Sexual Assault?

While harassment in the workplace can include verbal incidents, this isn’t the case for assault. Sexual assault is non-consensual and intentional physical contact of a sexual nature. It’s important to distinguish between these two types of behavior. For instance, while an unwanted shoulder rub in the office may be physical in nature, it would not rise to the level of non-consensual sexual contact. In all cases, this form of assault is a criminal matter.

You typically won’t hear sexual assault discussed in the context of the workplace. That’s because the charge is so serious that it doesn’t matter where it occurs. Yes, there are additional legal remedies available if such actions occur at work — but the simple fact is that sexual harassment becomes far more serious once it reaches the level of assault. Sexual assault can include rape, inappropriate touching, and other physical interactions of a sexual nature.

Major Differences Between Sexual Harassment and Assault

There are many differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault. The latter is clearly more serious and traumatic for the victim. In addition to the distinctions in the level of seriousness, there are also differences between the outcome of both acts. For instance, sexual harassment in the workplace may entitle the targeted individual to compensation from their employer. Companies are required to offer a safe work environment for their employees.

When sexual assault occurs, though, it’s typically appropriate to file a criminal charge. If the assault happened in the workplace, reporting the incident to the police won’t interfere with your ability to seek compensation from an employer. It’s important to note that holding a company accountable for harassment typically requires showing that the behavior was ongoing. Also, it’s necessary to show that the company should have known about it and did not rectify the problem.

However, it may be possible to seek compensation for sexual assault even if the act only involved a single incident. Perhaps the employer hired someone without a sufficient background check. Maybe they hosted a holiday party and failed to have security onsite. It’s obviously most important to hold the perpetrator accountable, but if you’re a victim of sexual assault, all responsible parties should have to answer for their actions.

What Are Your Options After Being Targeted?

Regardless of the differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault, one of the most important things you can do is reach out to an attorney. They can help you better understand your rights and the appropriate way to move forward. For instance, envision a scenario where an individual faces constant sexual advances in the workplace. An attorney can help submit a complaint with the EEOC and file litigation on your behalf.

A skilled legal professional can also assist victims of sexual assault. They can easily help you file criminal charges. However, our law firm understands that this is a deeply personal decision. That’s why we’ll work to ensure you have control over the process and don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. If you so choose, we can help with criminal charges, lawsuits against perpetrators, and litigation against companies that allowed abuse.

Are You Entitled to Compensation?

While there are obviously major differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault, one common factor is that both may entitle you to compensation. Whether in or outside the workplace, no one has the right to make you uncomfortable. When inappropriate sexual acts occur at your place of employment, though, you have more legal remedies available. Your employer may have to compensate you for emotional hardships and more.

Additionally, you may be entitled to even more substantial compensation if your employer punished you for reporting inappropriate behavior. This is known as retaliation. It can involve demotions, termination, and other adverse employment actions. If this all sounds fairly complex, that’s because it can be. This is why you should take the time to sit down with our law firm and speak with a professional lawyer for addressing harassment today.