Sexual Assault – When Harassment Becomes Assault

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.



Sexual Harassment & Bullying

Sexual harassment and bullying are two different ways for perpetrators to harm their victims through violence, threats of violence, manipulation and unwanted touching. However, while sexual harassment is a form of bullying, bullying isn’t always sexual in nature. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of sexual harassment and bullying and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you, and to teach children and others not to become bullies.

What is Bullying?

To look at the issue in detail, let’s look at the definition of bullying. Bullying is an act or set of behaviors that is unwanted, aggressive and typically takes place among school-aged children. However, bullying can occur into young and older adulthood as well becoming more commonly known as harassment, sexual or otherwise.

Bullying often involves two defining characteristics that make it what it is and a recurring problem. First, bullying typically involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Second, the behavior is usually repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time toward the same victim(s). Bullying can result in lasting serious mental health problems for both the bully and the bullied victims.

While it is known by parents, teachers and other adults that sometimes kids can be mean to one another, say hurtful words or occasionally hit out of anger and frustration, that behavior becomes considered bullying in cases where one child is older than another or physically stronger than another. Bullying among adults also must maintain that characteristic, which is why it can take place when a boss bullies an employee or subordinate. Bullying among children can also take place when individuals of a predominant race or culture intentionally attack or threaten minority classmates and other children.

Bullying can take on three primary types:

  • Verbal bullying. This can entail calling names, making threats, teasing, taunting and inappropriate sexual comments, which then borders on sexual harassment.
  • Physical bullying. Hitting, spitting, tripping, punching, taking or breaking someone’s things and rude hand gestures would all be considered physical bullying acts.
  • Social bullying. In the era of social media, which more pre-teens and teens are having regular access to than ever before, social bullying has become one of the more prevalent types of bullying. It is more difficult for parents to monitor as children and teens can become more secretive with how and where they post. They can post anonymous rumors about a person, call names, send harassing messages, take and post unwanted pictures of a person, etc. Social bullying can also include intentionally leaving other children out. Telling classmates not to talk to/hang out with a specific child, making embarrassing comments and spreading false stories about them.

What is Sexual Harassment?

While still a form of bullying, sexual harassment typically happens to teens and adults. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, non-consensual flirting, requests for sexual acts or favors as well as other verbal and physical harassment in a sexual nature.

Like other types of bullying, power play can be a big part of sexual harassment; teachers sexually harassing students, employers to employees, etc. These power dynamics are often the reason behind the perpetrator sexually harassing the victim – to feel powerful.

How to prevent sexual harassment and bullying:

For children and teens, there are some great ways to help prevent sexual harassment and bullying.

  1. Recognize body autonomy. Never touch another person without their consent. Never allow someone to touch you if you don’t want them to.
  2. No means no. Always. No exceptions.
  3. If you’re angry at a person, talk to them or consult an adult, parent, or teacher to help mediate the disagreement. Do not resort to mean and bullying behaviors to retaliate.
  4. If you feel like you’ve bullied someone in the past, apologize. Everyone will feel better.
  5. Remember that everyone is different. Some people are born with physical or mental differences, but those differences are part of who they are and are not an excuse for someone to tease them or highlight those differences in a cruel way.
  6. If you feel like you’re being bullied or you see bullying take place to a friend or classmate, tell a teacher or parent right away.
  7. If it seems safe to do so, laugh off the bullying or in a calm voice, tell the bully to leave you or your friend alone.
  8. If the bully seems dangerous, walk away and consult an adult.
  9. Stay away from people and places where bullying happens. Don’t hang around with bullies.
  10. Stay close to adults. Most bullying takes place when adults are not around.

Other Ways to Prevent Bullying:

To avoid putting all of the responsibility on potential victims to prevent bullying and sexual harassment, it is important to start by teaching lessons to young children on concepts of consent and body autonomy as well as kindness and empathy. Some studies have shown that children who are willing to make friends with the “loner” students (who are often the biggest target for bullies) the number of bullied children is able to drop significantly.

One resource, invented by a teen who was bullied, is called the Sit with Us app. The idea is that kids who are surrounded by friends are less likely to be a target for bullies. The Sit with Us app helps kids and teens find friends to sit with at lunch or hang out with in social settings. Encouraging your child and teen to make friends with everyone can greatly cut down on the amount of students being bullied.

Teaching these concepts to children at a young age (including toddlerhood) can help them be more accepting of children who are different, help them show kindness and compassion and help them learn the importance of respecting others.