Sexual assault and harassment have been in the news a lot lately, as more and more alleged victims of powerful public figures come forward to make accusations.
It started on October 5, when The New York Times published an investigative report covering sexual harassment allegations made against Harvey Weinstein spanning the past 30 years, and alleging that he had paid off his accusers.
Allegations against actor Kevin Spacey then surfaced, followed by a slew of other famous and powerful men. Notable among the accused are former Today Show host Matt Lauer, comedian Louis CK, and former president George HW Bush. And of course, the current President of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct and crimes by numerous women.
Allegations of Sexual Misconduct are Likely to Become More Common
Since these allegations have come to light, we as a culture have become more aware of just how common sexual assault and harassment are in our culture. This heightened awareness is important in helping to prevent the psychological and emotional damage of sexual assault and harassment, and to promote a culture of safety and respect.
However, while sexual misconduct should never be tolerated under any circumstance, it is important to note that in many cases, the alleged offender may believe in good faith that they and the victim(s) were engaging in a mutually consensual act. If the ultimate goal is to prevent these kinds of incidents from occurring and treat each other more respectfully, how can we change this clearly faulty belief structure?
Perhaps the best prevention is to be aware of what constitutes sexual assault and harassment, and to be sensitive to how our actions may be perceived by others. This is also valuable to know for anyone accused, so that they understand exactly what they are up against and how to protect their reputation, rights, and future.
Legally, sexual assault and sexual harassment are two very different beasts. Sexual assault is a criminal offense, while sexual harassment is a civil matter. However, what constitutes sexual assault versus harassment is much more subtle, and it is paramount to understand these distinctions.
Sexual Harassment under the Laws of Florida
Sexual harassment typically involves sexual misconduct in the workplace, or in another professional context, such as between colleagues. There are two distinct forms of sexual harassment, known as quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
In quid pro quo sexual harassment, a person in a position of authority requests or demands sexual favors in exchange for preferential treatment or career advancement, or to avoid punitive actions.
In hostile work environment sexual harassment, an employer or person in authority fails to correct a work environment where sexually inappropriate behavior is occurring, which makes the workplace intimidating or offensive.
Professional and Civil Consequences of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment, particularly quid pro quo harassment committed by a person in authority, often has grave professional consequences. These allegations can in fact be career-ending, as has been illustrated by the cases recently portrayed by the media. The specific disciplinary actions would be at the discretion of your employer, but are usually severe.
You can also face a civil suit for both forms of sexual harassment, which could range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars in damages.
If you are accused of sexual harassment in the workplace, it may also have personal consequences at home. For example, if you are married or in a long-term relationship, your partner could leave. Further, child custody is likely to be compromised under these circumstances.
What Florida Says about Sexual Assault
The definition of sexual assault varies from state to state. In Florida, it is known as sexual battery, and constitutes non-consensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration of another by an object or body part.
Criminal Penalties for Sexual Assault
Sexual battery may be charged as a capital felony, first degree felony, or second degree felony, depending upon the nature of the alleged assault.
If convicted, you could face anywhere from five years to life in prison. In Florida, you may even face the death penalty for more grievous forms of sexual battery, such as those committed against a child under 12 or using a deadly weapon.
Is It Assault or Harassment?
Both sexual assault and sexual harassment involve unwanted sexual attention or acts of some form. The difference is that sexual assault involves unwanted contact as a result of coercion, force, or incapacitation.
Because of this, it is important to know that some forms of sexual harassment may also be considered sexual assault. For example, if the victim performed sexual acts under coercion or threat of punitive actions from a person of authority, this could constitute both sexual harassment and sexual assault.
At the Law Offices of David W. Olson, we strongly contend that sexual misconduct should not be tolerated, but everyone deserves the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and to craft the strongest possible defense. Nor should false allegations made for financial, personal, or professional gain be acceptable.
If you have been accused of sexual assault, contact our offices. Our compassionate legal team will help make sure that your rights are protected and build the best possible defense.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.