Legal Guide

What is sexual harassment and how it can affect you

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a criminal act that involves making unwanted or inappropriate advances or requesting for unwelcomed sexual favors from someone. This can also be any inappropriate sexual vocabulary or comments that make you feel uncomfortable. Out of all sorts of harassments, sexual harassment is the most common one despie being criminally punishable by law. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regards sexual harassment as not just individually harassing a specific person but also making unwanted negative sexual comments about women as a group too. While the laws do not completely protect against the offhand comments based upon such negative behavior they are liable to leave emotional damages.

What is regarded as sexual harassment?

A variety of unwanted sexual actions can count as sexual harassment. These unwanted actions can be committed by anyone regardless of gender. These harassers may or may not have a relationship with the victims and can be direct or indirect about their harassment. The most common type is the workplace sexual harassment. The actions that may be regarded as sexual harassment can include:

  1. Making unwanted comments or actions towards a person that are of sexual nature and causing them inconvenience or trauma
  2. Physically or sexually assaulting them
  3. Making conditions for employment or promotions that may involve the exchange or sexual favors.
  4. Making sexually offensive jokes that may target someone sexually or their sexual orientation.
  5. Making unwanted physical contact with them that makes them feel distrubed or negatively affected.
  6. Making unwanted discussions about sexual fantasies or relations with someone in inappropriate places
  7. Pressurizing someone to sexually engage in activities that they don’t want to do but may be forced to do considering their employment or any other things might be on the line.
  8. Exposing oneself while performing sexual acts on oneself or on others intentionally
  9. Sending unwanted sexually explicit content that may involve photos, messages or anything else.
  10. Making negative sexual comments or jokes that may make others feel disturbed around you.

Difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault

The two terms are often used interchangeably. They may mean the same things that are referring to any sexually offensive conduct or behavior but they are a little different. Sexual harassment is a wider term and can include many unwelcomed sexual behaviors that can get you trialed for violating civil laws while sexual assault on the other hand falls under the criminal law. Harassment may not necessarily fall under the criminal acts but indeed some forms of it do apply under the criminal law and sexual assault is one of them.Sexual assault in general refers to the following actions

  1. Actions involving penetration of the victim’s body regardless of being male or female, also known as rape
  2. Any attempts to rape someone also come under sexual assault whether the criminal is able to do it or not
  3. Any form of sexual acts that a victim may be forced to perform is performed on the victims including oral sex or penetration come under sexual assault
  4. Any form of inappropriate sexual touch, groping or fondling that is unwanted by the victim or without their consent comes under sexual assault

Another broad term that is used to describe all these perverse behaviours is Sexual misconduct. This is a non legal and informal term which does not necessarily involve harassment but may involve behaviors that are prohibited even if they are consensual. For example certain companies may ban sexual relationships between their employees even if those relationships are consensual.

Sexual harassment can occur anywhere. They can occur in workplaces, in schools, in universities and even at home. They can also occur in various scenarios that may include after work hours or any exchanges or conversations that may happen outside of your work environment.

In case you witness someone going through such experiences at your workplace or anywhere else you should ensure the safety of the victim by taking whatever chances that can guarantee your safety as well as theirs. Bystander intervention can sometimes really help someone that may be at a risk of sexual assault or can even save someone who is going through it but are unable to protect themselves. You may not necessarily have to play the role of a hero, you can do it in ways that are more befitting and appropriate for the situation. Here are some of the ways that you can consider

  1. You can interrupt or create distractions that may keep the harasser away from the victime. Do make sure that you don’t put yourself in danger while doing so. You should make sure that you do things that don’t draw their attention towards you unless you are willing to deal with it. If you feel that the situation is turning violent then it is better to get proper authorities involved.
  2. You can also consult the person directly over how they can be helped. You can ask them whether they need you company or any other ways that can stop the harasser from reaching them out. You can also walk them to safe spaces like their cars or offer them company if they walk home by foot.
  3. You can also contact the authority. This may be the safest way as contacting an authoritative figure can help you in many ways. They can often deal with the harasser better than you.
  4. It may be hard to deal with everything on your own so you can consider getting the help of others. You can ensure your own safety by doing so as many people are better than one. You can talk to a coworker or a friend regarding this as they might be able to give more insight or may be helpful in protecting the victim as well.

What can sexual harassment do to you?

Sexual harassment can be quite a stressful and traumatizing experience. Many victims may go through a variety of after effects and traumas. These may include emotional impacts like anger, fear, humiliation, guilt, shame and powerlessness. Victims may often feel betrayed or violated which can further end up affecting their mental health.They may end up developing mental health issues like anxiety, depression, panic attacks and PTSD. These may further lead them into difficulties in focusing or developing suicidal tendencies or even getting into substance or drug abuse. They may also find it difficult to eat or sleep and can look often fatigued or disturbed.

Contacting a Lawyer

In case you are going through sexual harassment the best course of action for you is to approach a lawyer. You should approach a lawyer before filing a case considering they can guide you better that way. Lawyers can not only guide you through the process but they can also help you in understanding your rights and the things you need to do before filing a case. Many times your harasser is in a privileged position and proving them to be one can be very difficult on your own. Your lawyer can give you correct guidance on documenting and collecting evidence for your case. They can also provide you insight over whether the case filing can be of any use to you or not.

In addition they can help protect you from financial losses or loss of employment due to the case. They can give you legal advice over ways to protect yourself from the harasser.

Other things that the lawyer may do for you may include

  • Documenting your case and gathering the evidence and witnesses for your case by holding discussion with them
  • They can guide you over the steps that you can take if the harassment continues
  • The can also guide you over the actions that you can take to ensure that the harasser can no longer approach you in the future
  • They can make sure that you file the case and are not met with hostile retaliation.
  • Many times the victims may be emotionally drained to take actions and the lawyers can handle that on their behalf.
  • They can ensure that the harasser does not get away with their crimes easily. Most harassers tend to have more than one victim and taking action against them can also help their other victims in standing up against them. This can also prevent them from creating any future victims.

Retaliation

Lawyers can help you prevent any behavior from your employer or employees after you report them for sexual harassment. Retaliation can be done in many forms including workplace bullying or even forcing you to terminate. They may also remove you from any projects or exclude you from other activities. Lawyers can ensure that your rights are protected and in case the harasser chooses to retaliate against you then they are dealt with legally.

Conclusion

Sexual Harassment can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age or sexual orientation. It is necessary that you do not tolerate any such behavior that can possibly turn into sexual assault later. Taking action against sexual harassers can not only protect yourself from them but also their other victims. It is better that you consult a sexual assault lawyer before you file a sexual harassment case. They can guide you through the pros and cons of filing a case and can guide you effectively through the whole process so that you can get the mental and emotional compensation that you deserve.

If you know someone who is going through any sexual harassment or abuse or are going through it yourself contact a Sexual Abuse Lawyer today. 


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