What are the differences between sexual assault and harassment?

PUBLISHED 29 May 2018

The recent #MeToo movement has been bringing more and more powerful men out of the woodworks, unveiling all kinds of sexual encounters over the decades. From film producer Harvey Weinstein and reporter Matt Lauer through to Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson, the news has been rife with scandal.

These examples have been encouraging more (both men and women) to speak out about their sexual assault and harassment experiences. It also has others questioning encounters – but what constitutes as sexual assault vs harassment?

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a big problem in Australia, affecting one in five women in the workplace, and one in 20 men in the workplace. It includes any unwanted sexual behaviour that makes a victim feel offended, humiliated or intimidated and is a type of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment can be obvious or indirect and can be an ongoing issue or a one-off.

The Australian Human Rights Commission explains sexual harassment includes the following:

  • Staring;
  • Unnecessary familiarity (deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching);
  • Suggestive comments or jokes;
  • Insults or taunts of a sexual nature
  • Intrusive questions or statements about your private life;
  • Displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature;
  • Sending sexually explicit emails or text messages;
  • Inappropriate advances on social networking sites;
  • Accessing sexually explicit internet sites;
  • Requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is the scope of unwanted sexual behaviours that are used by the perpetrator to assume power or control over their victim, making them feel uncomfortable or threatened.

That means sexual assault can range from the following:

  • Unwanted touching;
  • Unwanted groping;
  • Unwanted kissing;
  • Unwanted rubbing;
  • Rape;
  • Forcing victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways.

Sexual assault also includes 'sexual violence' which can include false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or threats to illicit sexual acts. The range of psychological and emotional impact of experiencing a sexual assault varies from no effect to severe trauma.

It's important to understand that no matter how long ago these experiences happened, you may still be able to take action against the perpetrator as their actions can have lifelong damaging effects.

We have been successful in claims for compensation for victims of child abuse, sexual assault, physical & mental abuse against a large number of organisations and individuals including:
  • The Department of Community Services in New South Wales and equivalent departments Australia wide.
  • Religious organisations including the Catholic Church.
  • Actions against public and private schools including boarding schools.
  • Actions against professionals who have held a position of trust such as doctors, teachers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

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