Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct is a broad term encompassing any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that is committed without consent or by force, intimidation, coercion, or manipulation. Sexual misconduct can be committed by a person of any gender, and it can occur between people of the same or different genders.

If you are experiencing sexual misconduct at work, you may file with the EEOC.  However, you must file, in most states, within 180  days of the last harassing event.

The Center for Disease Control provides comprehensive definitions, which can be found here, of both physical and nonphysical sexual violence.

Steps to take if you or someone you know has been sexually harassed

While this is not always possible, letting the offender know that what they are doing makes you uncomfortable can often lead to a resolution. If there is no resolution (i.e. the offender doesn’t care or continues the harassment) you should move on to the next step. Confrontation, however, at least forces the harasser to be aware of the effect of his/her actions.

Some employers have structured processes for handling these types of issues and some do not. If your place of work has a procedure, follow it as closely as possible and pay attention to specific guidelines, e.g. to whom issues should be reported, the time frame for reporting harassment etc. If there is no set complaint procedure, report the incident(s) to your immediate supervisor (unless they are the offender, in which case you should report to someone above them).

Regardless of how your employer handles sexual harassment issues, there are a few things that you can do to ensure your claim is heard:

1. Keep detailed notes on interaction related to the harassment, including who’s involved, what was said or done by both the offender and yourself, and dates and times of harassment incidents.

2. Determine whether the conduct is considered quid pro quo or hostile working environment sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo: An employee requests unwelcome sexual favors for, or in return of a promotion, raise, new job title, etc. Threats of demotion, salary cuts and bad performance reviews if sexual favors are not received are also considered quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Hostile working environment: This constitutes behavior that a “reasonable person” would find to be “hostile” and “offensive,” according to the EEOC.

Time lines for filing are generally restricted to anywhere from 180 to 300 days since the last incident of harassment. If several incidents occurred, only one of which was within the past 180 days (or whatever your state’s time limit is), the EEOC will only investigate the timely claim. The exception to this rule is if the harassment is ongoing.

Ongoing Harassment: in this case you must file within 180 days (or whatever your state’s time limit is) of the most recent event, but the EEOC will investigate all incidents, even if they occurred further in the past.

The EEOC and any other involved agencies will work to reach a resolution with your employer.

If no resolution is reached, the appropriate agencies will issue a “Notice of the Right to Sue” letter; in most cases you have 90 days to file a lawsuit after receiving the Notice of the Right to Sue. In bringing a civil suit for injuries, said injuries do not need to be physical. In fact, most cases are brought forth for the emotional damage suffered by a victim. A successful case can result in job reinstatement, damages, back pay, and other applicable remedies.

Sexual Harassment

Description from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Comission:

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Sexual Assault

Definition from the U.S. Department of Justice:

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse refers to any type of illegal or coerced sexual conduct against another individual. A variety of different offenses fall into this category, which is not limited to physical contact alone. Instead, sexual abuse includes acts of sexual harassment, rape, indecent exposure, forcing another individual to view or participate in pornography, and contributing in any way to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Often times the unwanted behavior is recurrent and the victim knows the abuser.

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Resources

“Every 98 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault.” RAINN.org provides multiple resources on state laws, understanding consent, the effects of sexual violence, statutes of limitations, and much more. They also provide a free live chat and hotline for those who need help.