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Sexual Harassment, Assault, and Abuse in California: What’s the Difference?

Posted on April 15, 2022 | Employment Law,Sexual Harassment,Workplace Discrimination

While it’s hard to put a label on the emotional impact of any type of unwanted sexual act, the law must have very distinct categories. The main differences among the terms sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse are their legal implications – and none of these words can categorize the emotional impact that they have on their victims. All three of these terms involve some form of sexual misconduct.

Sexual harassment vs sexual assault vs sexual abuse

Here’s a quick rundown of each:

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a term that describes many nonconsensual acts, including sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other kinds of verbal or physical conduct with a sexual implication. Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace, in schools, or in other settings. It can be perpetrated by a supervisor, co-worker, teacher, student, or anyone else in a position of power or authority over the victim.

Some common examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Making lewd comments or jokes about someone’s body or sex life
  • Asking personal questions about someone’s sex life or sexual history
  • Making suggestions that someone should have sex with you or someone else
  • Touching someone in a sexual way without their consent
  • Sending unsolicited sexually explicit emails, texts, or other messages

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is sexual contact that occurs without the clear consent of the recipient. Sexual assault can range from unwanted touching to rape. These crimes can be perpetrated by strangers or by people the victim knows, such as a friend, family member, or intimate partner.

Some common examples of sexual assault include:

  • Fondling or unwanted touching of someone’s genitals, breasts, or other body parts
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts against their will
  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Sodomy or attempted sodomy

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is defined as any type of sexual misconduct that involves the use of force, coercion, or manipulation. Sexual abuse can occur in relationships, in families, or in other settings. These crimes are typically perpetrated by someone the victim knows and trusts, such as a family member, friend, or intimate partner.

Some common examples of sexual abuse include:

  • Forcing someone to have sex against their will
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts they don’t want to do
  • Sexually assaulting someone while they are asleep or unable to consent
  • Manipulating or coercing someone into sending sexual photos or videos
  • Threatening to release sexual photos or videos of someone without their consent

What Evidence Is Needed to Prove Sexual Misconduct in California?

There are many different types of evidence that can be used to prove sexual misconduct in California. Some common examples include:

  • Testimony from the victim or witnesses. This may include statements from the victim about what happened, as well as testimony from witnesses who saw or heard the incident take place.
  • Physical evidence. This may include clothing, DNA, or other physical evidence that was collected from the scene of the crime.
  • Electronic evidence. This may include emails, text messages, or other electronic communications that were sent between the victim and the perpetrator.
  • Video or audio recordings. This may include security footage, cell phone recordings, or other video or audio recordings that capture the incident.
  • Medical records. This may include records from the victim’s doctor or hospital visit that document their injuries.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse, connecting with an attorney to identify and secure high-quality evidence is critical to building a strong case.

How Can an Attorney Help If You’ve Been Sexually Harassed, Assaulted, or Abused in California?

After any kind of unwanted sexual advances, be it assault, harassment, or abuse, coming forward is complicated. From other relationships that could be impacted to even caring for the person that hurt you, many find this step difficult. An attorney can help you understand the impact of each step in the process and provide clear insight on what to expect from the court system and its response to what you’ve been through. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in California, there are many ways an experienced attorney can help. Some common examples include:

  • Conducting a thorough investigation. An attorney can help you identify and collect evidence to support your claim.
  • Filing a police report. An attorney can help you file a police report and ensure the investigation is conducted properly.
  • Filing a restraining order. An attorney can help you file a restraining order to protect you from further harm. This can keep the perpetrator away from you and prevent them from having any contact with you.
  • Negotiating a settlement. An attorney can help you negotiate a settlement with the perpetrator or their insurance company. This can help you avoid the need for a trial if it’s a step you are comfortable with.
  • Going to trial. If necessary, an attorney can help you take your case to trial and fight for the justice you deserve. This involves presenting your evidence in court and cross-examining the perpetrator and witnesses.


Q: What Is the Difference Between Sexually Harassed and Sexually Abused?

A: Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted sexual advances or conduct. This can include things like inappropriate comments, unwanted touching, or pressure to engage in sexual activity. Sexual abuse, on the other hand, is defined as any non-consensual sexual contact. This can include things like rape, sexual assault, or child molestation.

Q: What Type of Attorney Handles Sexual Assault Cases?

A: There are many different types of attorneys who handle sexual assault cases, including criminal defense attorneys, civil rights attorneys, and personal injury attorneys. It’s important to find an attorney who has experience handling the specific type of case you have.

Q: Does Sexual Assault Fall Under Harassment?

A: Yes, sexual assault is a type of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be any unwanted sexual advances or conduct, and sexual assault is defined as any non-consensual sexual contact.

Q: What Are the Three Types of Harassment?

A: The three types of harassment are verbal, physical, and visual. Verbal harassment includes things like comments or jokes that are sexual in nature. Physical harassment includes things like unwanted touching or sexual assault. Visual harassment includes things like leering, making sexually explicit gestures, or displaying sexually explicit images.

Contact Nosratilaw, A Professional Law Corporation Today

Sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are sadly too prevalent in our society. For help understanding your next steps, contact Nosratilaw, A Professional Law Corporation today. We are experienced civil rights attorneys who have dedicated our careers to fighting for the rights of victims of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. Contact us today to begin discussions surrounding your case.

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