What is the Difference Between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault?

Recently, several movements have encouraged victims of sexual misconduct to come forward and report their experiences and demand justice. That has made many organizations take unwanted sexual conduct much more seriously and design mechanisms to promote morality in the workplace.

However, many people often use the terms “sexual harassment,” “sexual abuse,” and “sexual assault” interchangeably, not knowing that these terms are quite different despite their close meanings. Are you in this category of people? Okay. You are about to learn how to differentiate between sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. This knowledge will help you articulate the specific offense committed against you at the workplace or protect you from falling into the net of sexual-related crimes that can result in a lawsuit.

Sexual Harassment 

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. This offense violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the workplace, there are two types of sexual harassment. They are Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environments. 

  • Quid Pro Quo: Quid pro quo means “something for something”, exchanging sexual favors for a benefit. Itinvolves a situation in which there are unequal power dynamics between two parties. The superior party (e.g., a manager, a recruiter, a lecturer, etc.) is demanding or threatening the victim (an employee, a candidate, a student, etc.) for a sexual favor in exchange for a guaranteed position, salary increment, employment, promotions, favorable assignments, better shifts, recommendations, or job security.
  • Hostile Work Environment: Unlike quid pro quo harassment, which can be a one-off thing, a hostile workplace involves persistent, unwanted behavior that upsets the victim to the point where it intimidates them and interferes with their ability to do their job. Sexual harassment in a hostile workplace includes discrimination due to gender and sexual orientation and other sexually motivated offenses. To stand a chance to file a complaint about work environment harassment, you must gather enough evidence to prove that the harassment is repetitive. The scope of sexual harassment in a hostile work environment is a little broad. It includes:
    • Unwanted touching or sexual body contact
    • Offensive jokes or remarks about one’s sexuality
    • Consistent and unwanted flirting or invitations to dates
    • Sending inappropriate pictures or messages
    • Giving sexual hints 
    • Unwanted sexual attention and flirtation

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a serious crime and often a traumatic experience for the victim. Hence, it is under criminal law, unlike sexual harassment, which falls under civil law. While sexual assault is used interchangeably with “rape”, it includes any intentional physical contact without the victim’s consent.

Someone might be unable to explicitly agree to action when intoxicated, underage, unconscious, under the influence of drugs, or distressed. Other forms of sexual assault include non-consensual kissing, fondling, statutory rape, forcing the victim to touch, and more. Just as both genders can be victims of sexual assault, the offender can be the same gender as the victim.

Protect Your Workforce through Effective Training and Prevention

Many organizations are beginning to understand why they must never accept or encourage any sexual misconduct or sexual violence. That is why organizations are now investing in strengthening their sexual harassment prevention strategy by organizing staff capacity development programs to train on workplace ethics and assault prevention.

Any organization, irrespective of size, can prevent and combat sexual harassment and assault by exposing its employees to training programs and a clear policy, thus helping to raise awareness.

Leave a Comment