Sexual Assault vs. Harassment: What’s The Difference?

Sexual assault and harassment are similar, but they’re also very distinct. Understanding the differences can help you know when an incident rises to the level of a serious sexual offense. If you’re the victim of sexually abusive behavior, learning about sexual assault vs. harassment and how they’re different is highly advised from a sexual assault lawyer.


What’s Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that’s illegal in the United States under state and federal law. It deals with unwanted sexual advances or innuendo, such as physical contact, verbal abuse, and requests for sexual favors. The following situations apply to sexual harassment:


  • Submitting to unwanted sexual advances as a condition of your employment
  • Accepting or rejecting sex with coworkers, which then affects your employment status
  • Struggling or failing to do your job because of unwanted sexual behavior
  • Receiving sexually explicit or inappropriate images against your will


Someone’s conduct can have an abusive or humiliating effect on your life, especially when it contains a sexual component. Keep in mind that some behaviors are easy to detect, while others are more subtle and insidious.


What Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is when the harassment goes one step further: The abuser makes unwanted physical contact or inflicts harm on a victim that’s sexual in nature. Examples include touching, groping, or penetration without consent (rape or similar acts). If you’re intoxicated and unable to resist the attacker’s behavior, it does not mean you’re consenting or giving permission.


A Comparison of Sexual Assault vs. Harassment

Sexual harassment is a broader term that encompasses many different behaviors. Harassing and offensive conduct is actionable under state and federal laws, depending on the circumstances. Discriminatory remarks about someone’s gender are also considered sexual harassment.


Sexual assault constitutes a crime in California. Offenders can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the incident. Unwanted contact in sexual assault cases often deals with a lack of or incapacity to consent, forcible compulsion, and often injury.


What Happens When You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted?

You should always seek medical attention after any sexual assault or physical abuse. Undergoing an evaluation and receiving treatment allows you to begin healing from your injuries. Furthermore, doctors can utilize a rape kit to collect DNA and determine if you contracted an STD.


Keep in mind that you’re protected under state criminal laws and federal civil rights laws. If you’re the victim of unwanted sexual abuse (touching, rape, etc.), you should report it immediately. Now’s the time to hold your attacker accountable for what they’ve done. You deserve justice if someone’s behavior towards you was criminal in nature.


Many survivors of sexual assault are afraid to come forward with their stories. They often prefer not to mention it to anyone out of fear of judgment or becoming vulnerable to future abusive behavior. However, even if time has gone by since the assault, it’s never too late to seek justice.


Contact an Attorney Today

At HHJ Trial Attorneys, we assist victims who’re going through the process of filing sexual assault claims. Our job is to ensure you can send a message to your attacker and prevent future crimes. Contact us today so we can learn more about your case and answer any questions you may have.

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