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Sexual Harassment

When sexual harassment warrants legal action

Women and men have the legal right to be free from sexual harassment. The harassment laws in place in North America and democratic countries around the world cover a full range of situations in which coercion or intimidation of a sexual nature might occur. While workplace harassment is perhaps the most talked-about type of sexual harassment in legal circles, it can actually happen just about anywhere--in school, at the shopping mall or the grocery store, on the street or any other public place.

While the most common sexual harassment scenario involves a male aggressor and a female victim, both harasser and victim can be either male or female. In many cases, but especially in workplace harassment, the aggressor holds a powerful position relative to the victim and attempts to use it for coercive purposes. However, the legal definition of sexual harassment is much broader and includes physical as well as verbal harassment. It is important to note that this form of harassment is not only sexual in nature, but also psychological and emotional.

What Constitutes Sexual and Gender Harassment?

The strict legal definition of sexual harassment includes any and all forms of unwanted sexual attention, regardless of the setting, the gender of the harasser or the gender of the victim. In the United States, there is no threshold or line that must be crossed for sexual harassment to be legally constituted—it occurs whenever a perpetrator makes inappropriate advances or sexual propositions. However, minor instances of sexual harassment typically do not warrant any legal action.

Sexual harassment is concerning when the perpetrator continues to make advances despite clear indications that the victim is not interested, uncomfortable or frightened. At this point, such behavior becomes illegal. More serious situations, such as wrongful termination because of refused sexual advances, physical assaults or verbalized threats, form the basis for criminal charges and/or civil lawsuits.

It is also important to note that sexualized environments, especially in the workplace, can constitute a form of harassment even if nothing is specifically directed at the victim.

What You Can Do About Sexual Harassment

If you are being intimidated on a repeated basis by the same perpetrator, you should call the police and discuss the situation. Pressing criminal charges may be a possibility.

In cases of workplace harassment, legal action is typically civil rather than criminal (unless a sexual assault actually took place). A harassment lawyer can help you build your case, initiate litigation and collect a financial settlement to compensate you for your anxiety, legal expenses and any loss of wages that may have resulted from wrongful dismissal or demotion.

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