Both sexual harassment and assault are illegal, and both have severe consequences. However, sexual harassment is a civil offense and has civil consequences, while sexual assault is a criminal offense, and has criminal consequences… as well as potential civil consequences.
Both offenses involve unwanted sexual acts or attention, and sometimes the line between the two can become surprisingly blurry. Below, we review what exactly constitutes each type of offense and the civil and/or criminal consequences you could face, as well as how to distinguish sexual harassment from sexual assault.
Sexual Harassment in Minnesota
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “offensive remarks about a person’s sex, unwelcome sexual advances, and requests for sexual favors.
For example, a superior could request sexual favors in return for a promotion or some other professional gain, known as quid pro quo behavior. Sexual harassment can also create a hostile work environment when the behavior is severe enough that it changes the conditions or culture of the workplace.
Sexual harassment is considered to be a civil rights issue, as it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Generally, if allegations of sexual harassment are confirmed, particularly in the workplace, the aggressor can expect termination of his or her employment, as well as potential civil consequences.
Victims of sexual harassment often file civil lawsuits against their aggressor and/or employer. These settlements are often quite substantial, typically exceeding five figures, and occasionally reaching the six-figure range. Further, the aggressor is often required to pay the legal fees associated with bringing a civil suit.
Sexual Assault in Minnesota
Sexual assault is defined by the Department of justice as “any type of sexual conduct or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Examples of sexual assault include forcible sexual intercourse, attempted rape, groping, and indecent exposure.
Rape includes any penetration of the anus or vagina, or oral penetration by a sex organ without the victim’s explicit consent. In Minnesota, this act is charged as criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of 30 years and fine of up $40,000. Typically, the mandatory minimum for first-degree criminal sexual conduct is at least 12 years.
After serving the prison sentence, offenders are subject to conditional release, which includes sex offender registration, treatment, and monitoring. If the offender has any prior sex crime convictions, he or she will be held on conditional release for the remainder of his or her life.
This is a form of sexual assault that has been in headlines since the advent of the #metoo movement. In Minnesota, groping is defined as the intentional touching of the victim’s intimate parts without explicit consent. Groping includes touching over clothes, as well as touching the victim’s intimate parts by coercion.
In Minnesota, this is typically charged as criminal sexual conduct in the second degree, which is punishable by up to 24 years in prison and a fine of up to $35,000. The mandatory minimum is 7.5 years. After serving the prison sentence, the offender will also be required to submit to conditional release as described above.
Intentionally exposing one’s genitals without the consent of the victim constitutes indecent exposure. In Minnesota, this is classified as criminal sexual conduct in the fifth degree, which is punishable by up to one year of imprisonment. If the defendant has prior offenses, it is charged as a felony, which is punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment, and conditional release with sex offender registration.
How Minnesotans Navigate the Gray Area
There is some overlap between sexual harassment and sexual assault, but the two offenses are also distinct. Often, sexual harassment in the workplace can escalate to where it also constitutes sexual assault.
As a general rule, sexual assault occurs when the defendant makes non-consensual sexual contact with the victim, or they expose a sex organ. If the victim does not verbally or physically refuse these advances, this lack of action still does not constitute consent in many cases.
The bottom line is that both sexual harassment and sexual assault are quite severe offenses, and increased awareness of these issues means that allegations have increased as well. It’s therefore very important to be aware of your actions and how they might be perceived.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).