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Lines blur between sexual harassment and sexual assault


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The #MeToo movement opened a dialogue between men and women about sexual misconduct in the workplace, but many people still misunderstand the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault. Both actions take advantage of power differentials in workplace relationships, but the difference lies in approach.

Understanding the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment will help victims process and seek the appropriate resources to address their experience. For example, if a worker is sexually assaulted by their boss, it is important to contact the police department first, not human resources.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a broad term that refers to unwanted sexual attention. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are two main types of harassment, Quid pro quo and hostile environments.

In quid pro quo, sexual harassment is expressed or implied requests for sexual favors in return for some form of benefits. An example includes a supervisor who wants sexual favors and suggests they will help the victim receive a job promotion. It also involves the threat of termination or retaliation if the victim does not fulfill the requests.

In hostile environments, an individual creates a toxic atmosphere through speech or subtle behaviors. It includes inappropriate jokes, asking for dates consistently, improper touching or sexually-aggressive comments made towards a victim.

Sexual Assault

Similar to sexual harassment, sexual assault involves unwanted sexual contact without consent. In Colorado, sexual assaults include knowingly sexually penetrating or sexually intruding a victim against their will. Sexual assaults may initiate through force, intimidation or authority – often includes actions such as groping, molestation and rape. Sexual harassment is a common precursor to an attack in the workplace.

Unfortunately, sexual misconduct isn’t limited to the workplace. People experience inappropriate behavior in any location, including church, organizations, the home, etc. If you experience sexual harassment or assault, contact law enforcement to determine the right steps to take. It offers a support system and a safe environment to seek help.

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