Sexual Assault – When Harassment Becomes Assault

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Sexual assault can take various forms, and the definition of the act is encompassing of a few different situations that can occur when sexual advances or acts are made toward a person without their consent. The term sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes sexual activities including rape, molestation, fondling as well as attempted rape. However, sexual assault often begins in the form of sexual harassment. So when does sexual harassment become assault? Often times it is a fine line that can be crossed quickly. Keep reading to learn more about sexual assault and types of sexual harassment.

What is Sexual Assault?

The United States Department of Justice along with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) both state that sexual assault is a rampant problem that occurs millions of times a day to women, as well as men, teens and children throughout the world. Sexual assault statistics reveal that one in five women will be sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime. However, because the number of victims who actually report the sexual crimes against them is so low, it is believed the number of sexual assaults and rapes toward victims is likely much higher.

Types of Sexual Assault:

  • Rape: Under the legal definition, rape is a type of sexual assault, but not all sexual assaults result in rape. Rape, by the legal definition, is meant to describe penetration without consent. However, the actual definition can vary state to state.
  • Force: While it does include physical force, some sexual assault force is done in the form of emotional coercion resulting in non consensual sex. This can include the perpetrator using threats of violence and manipulation to get the victim to perform or engage in sexual acts.
  • Stranger Rape: In 70 percent of rape and sexual assault cases, the perpetrator is known by the victim. However, in some cases, the crime is committed by someone the victim does not know, or has just barely met. For example, blitz sexual assault is when a person is surprised by an attack, such as while out running or in an open place/location. While this type of sexual assault is rare, it does happen. Contact sexual assault occurs when the perp attempts to flirt with the victim or get them to go somewhere private with them before assaulting. Home invasion sexual assault, while also rare, can occur when the perp invades a person’s home to attack.

Sexual Assault and the Media

Recent social media campaigns such as the #MeToo movement, work to allow victims of sexual harassment and assault to share their experiences online. Also in the media, more and more reports are being made daily about members of the Hollywood and political elite, producers, directors, actors, senators, representatives, presidents and more, are coming out alleging these individuals are guilty of sexually harassing and assaulting fellow castmates, writers and staff. While the movements to expose these alleged crimes are beneficial for the victims as well as others who might be hesitant to talk about their own sexual assault experiences, it has also left others wondering if mixing talk of sexual harassment with sexual assault is detrimental to victims. While both can be harmful, both physically and emotionally, to the victim, some researchers are pointing out it is important to recognize the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Others have posed the question, are social media campaigns like #MeToo trivializing true assault victims’ experiences?

Sexual Harassment:

Sexual Harassment, by definition, is when uninvited and/or unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature is made toward someone. Sexual harassment is especially recognized when it is done  by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student).

In many cases of sexual assault, the victim is subjected to sexual harassment by the perp initially. Unwanted sexual comments or gestures may be made to the victim before the act of sexual assault takes place.

Regardless of the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment, both are unwanted acts of non-consent and victims are never to blame for the act, no matter the circumstance. As awareness increases, advocates express hope that lawmakers and legislators will come to the aid of victims to increase the amount of helpful resources available to access therapy and support for survivors. Advocates also express the desire for children to be taught the basics of body autonomy and consent beginning at toddlerhood. Understanding no means no is a concept that can be taught to even young children – an idea that will hopefully grow with them as they become teens and adults able to respect others.