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How do sexual assault and sexual harassment differ?

The topic of sexual assault continues to be widely discussed thanks to some high-profile cases involving well-known people. Most recently, allegations of sexual harassment by multiple women against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein led the board of directors of The Weinstein Company, which he co-founded, to fire him.

The terms "sexual harassment" and "sexual assault" are often used interchangeably when people discuss the issue. Both can leave a victim feeling violated. However, under the law, they are two different things. Sexual harassment isn't criminal, while sexual assault is.

Sexual harassment often occurs in the workplace or as part of a professional relationship. It can take the form of a hostile work environment where inappropriate behavior and/or comments are knowingly allowed by those in authority. It can also take the form of a "quid pro quo" where someone with authority over another person demands some type of sexual favor to avoid retribution or in exchange for a job, promotion or other preferential treatment. It is considered a type of illegal discrimination.

Alleged victims can take civil action against someone who has sexually harassed them. However, they cannot pursue criminal charges unless sexual assault was involved. Sexual assault is any type of unwanted sexual contact that involves force, incapacitation or coercion.

Accusations of sexual assault are very serious. A conviction can result in jail time, being placed on a sex offender registry and far-reaching consequences to your life well beyond any time served. If you or a loved one has been accused of sexual assault, it's essential to seek the guidance of a Maryland criminal defense attorney with experience in this type of case.

Source: FindLaw, "Is Sexual Harassment a Crime?," George Khoury, Esq., accessed Oct. 11, 2017

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