According to the 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 or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, …
One is a criminal offense and one is a civil offense. This topic has become a huge public awareness issue for the first time because media is now covering its seriousness and victims of it are not staying silent. Victims who have been silent for years are finding the courage “No Matter What” to speak their truth, point out the perpetrators no matter who they are (including the current President of the United States) and media is finally doing their job by publicizing this criminal and civil act against victims.
I hear among people I talk to and over hear in the store check out lines, workplace, etc. that this issue couldn’t be as bad as the media says it is. That these “women” are over exaggerating, making it up, getting 15 minutes of fame and so on. However, the truth is that what we are seeing and hearing is not “over exaggerated” at all, yet still not the full picture of this offense mainly used against women.
When I was in my 20’s I interviewed for a job and the prospective boss told me blatantly at the end of the interview that I was hired with a condition – I had to sleep with him at least twice (possibly more) a week as part of the terms of my employment. I also had a doctor at a college I was attending and who worked for this private college, act inappropriately during the physical exam required to attend the college. When I told him to stop what he was doing and that I would report him, he laughed and said that the administration would not believe me nor the police but to go ahead and try. He stated that other women before me and tried and no one believed them. Because of the mentality of our society of blaming the victim, most don’t report. I did however report, got signatures from over 100 other women who said they would testify against him and his sexual inappropriateness in court if required. He was fired by the school who feared a legal and media action. But not all victims are as strong as I was to report no matter what the consequences to my reputation, his power at the school, and determination to stop a predator. Over my lifetime I have seen others suffer from sexual misconduct and have dedicated my life to being an advocate for victims of abuse and harassment. It is unfortunately so accepted in our culture that until now, predators and perpetrators of both harassment and assault, have not only gotten away with it but considered “macho” and “that’s just him being him” by others who should have stopped them.
Now let’s discuss the difference between the two so you can also be a part of reporting this crime:
Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is a form of prohibited harassment. It is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” when:
1. Submission to such conduct is made either implicitly or explicitly a term or condition of employment.
2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions.
3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
4. This definition also encompasses unwelcome display or communication of sexually offensive materials.
A Hostile environment covers all other situations addressed within the definition of sexual harassment, whether the offender is a supervisor or a coworker. To meet the definition of a hostile environment, the harassment must be so severe and pervasive that a reasonable person would view the environment as hostile, offensive or abusive.
Sexual Assault
Sexual assault, as defined in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Manual is intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy and other unwanted indecent contact (e.g., kissing against another person’s will) that is aggravated, abusive or wrongful (to include unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact), or attempts to commit these acts.
“Consent” means words or overt acts indicating a given agreement done freely to the sexual conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of refusal or lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent (i.e., “No Means No”). Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the accused’s use of force, threat of force or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. The victim’s lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from intoxication, from unconsciousness due to sleep or alcohol consumption, or from any other conditions which render the person substantially incapacitated or substantially incapable of understanding the nature of the sexual act, declining participation in the act or communicating unwillingness to engage in the sexual act does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating relationship shall not constitute consent. The manner of dress of the victim shall not constitute consent.
Now that we have our definitions clearly established, let’s discuss them:
Comparing the Two
The real distinction between sexual harassment and sexual assault is sexual harassment’s connection to the victim’s employment and/or work performance, which is why sexual harassment is a civil rights issue.
Sexual assault is a crime against another person. However, unlike sexual harassment, it has nothing to do with their employment and/or work performance, it is a criminal assault, of a sexual nature, against another person.
Believe someone who tells you they are being harassed or assaulted. Until we all support victims of assault and harassment of any kind the perpetrators are empowered, supported, and continue. Your collusion with them by staying silent is a moral and ethical issue. There is NO EXCUSE for this type of behavior and it must be stopped. Everyone must be put on notice that there is a consequence for harming another person. Victims of abuse and sexual misconduct keep that experience with them for a lifetime.
For more information and help contact Dr. Kathie Mathis at