The Difference Between Sexual Assault and Harassment

There has been a lot of media coverage surrounding sexual assault and harassment. From big names in Hollywood being called out for their disgusting behavior, to Larry Nassar being sentenced for his sexual abuse toward young girls when he was the doctor for the women’s national gymnastics team.

In the center of all the coverage are terms like “sexual assault” and “harassment” being used, but it’s important to note both terms have different meanings, and they are not interchangeable.

Not only is it important to know and understand the difference, it’s crucial to be able to identify which one is happening so it can be reported to authorities correctly.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can be both verbal and physical in nature and includes unwanted sexual advances, the request of sexual favors, and any gender-based form of discrimination whether it’s in school, public, or the workplace. An example of sexual harassment would be the reports of former NBC new anchor Matt Lauer having inappropriate sexual behavior toward women at work.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is the intentional contact of another person done without their consent. This includes forced sexual contact, rape, forced kissing, touching or groping, and any sexual behavior or contact done using threats and against someone who is unable or unwilling to give consent. One example of sexual assault would be Harvey Weinstein. Numerous women have come forward accusing him of asking them to have a business meeting in his private hotel room where he would force himself onto them.

Recently, another term has gained media attention. With the recent sentencing of Larry Nasser, sexual abuse has been used often in the headlines.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any sexual advancement or action done to a minor. Because minors cannot legally give consent, any sexual action against them is considered sexual abuse and illegal. Because Larry Nasser’s victims were all minors, his charges are all on the grounds of sexual abuse.

One thing to remember is all terms involve illegal activity and should never be taken lightly. If you or someone you know believes they are a victim of sexual assault, harassment or abuse, call your local police department to report it ASAP. There you can be provided with help and resources to help bring your perpetrator to justice.