The sexual harassment is behavior that a person makes unwanted advances of a sexual nature toward another person. It can be presented in the workplace, educational context, as well as in the street or public spaces.

A sexual assault is an action of a sexual nature against a person, without their consent, in which there is physical contact and use of force, physical violence, threats or intimidation. Sexual assault is considered a felony in many jurisdictions.

For its part, sexual abuse is an action or conduct of a sexual nature against the sexual freedom of a person who is unable to consent to it, in which no direct physical violence or intimidation is used. The victims are mostly minors, which is why it is also considered a serious crime in many countries.

The way to legally interpret each of these behaviors varies slightly from country to country. However, sexual harassment, assault and abuse are generally considered forms of sexual violence, where there is never consent from the victims.

Difference between Harassment, Assault and Sexual abuse

Despite the fact that anyone can be a victim of sexual violence, in the vast majority of cases the victims are women or minors, while the aggressors are usually men or older than the victims.

What is Sexual Harassment?

The sexual harassment is defined as any behavior that there is sexual advances non – consensual physical, verbal or non – verbal (gestures) level, by a person against another person.

This type of harassment includes requests for sexual favors and creates a hostile social context for the victim, who may feel threatened by rejecting such advances.

Harassment is aggressive behavior, in which the harasser constantly intimidates or attacks the victim, in order to intimidate, control or cause harm. The stalker makes advances, threatens, blackmails, and makes unwanted physical approaches, with the intention of obtaining sexual favors.

The United Nations (UN), the European Union, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international organizations consider sexual harassment as a form of sexual discrimination that especially affects women.

In this way, those States that are part of these international organizations and their various agreements seek to eliminate harassment in all its forms.

Characteristics of Sexual Harassment

  • It is sexual conduct by one person towards another without their consent.
  • Creates a hostile and threatening environment or context for the victim.
  • It is constant and repeats itself over time.
  • It is more common for the victims to be women and the bullies to be men.
  • It is considered a form of sex discrimination.
  • It manifests itself physically, verbally and through gestures.
  • It can cause permanent psychological damage, physical ailments and social problems to the victim.

What is a Sexual Assault?

The sexual assault refers to action against the sexual freedom of a person that involves physical contact, by using force, physical violence, threats or intimidation.

This type of action implies that there is physical contact with the victim without their consent. The form by which the sexual assault occurs can be violent or through blackmail or threats.

Likewise, as a crime, and depending on the jurisdiction, it is considered if there is any type of penetration of body members or objects in the contact (even if the victim is a man and the aggressor is a woman). In this case, this sexual assault is considered a rape crime.

The vast majority of victims of sexual assault are women. However, even if it is in smaller numbers, men can also be and are victims of sexual assault.

Characteristics of a Sexual Assault

  • It involves physical contact.
  • It can occur violently or through threats and intimidation.
  • Most of the victims are women, although men can also be victims.
  • It is one of the most serious forms of sexual violence.
  • The aggressor may or may not be a person close to the victim.
  • Rape (physical) is the most serious form of sexual assault.
  • It can cause permanent psychological damage, physical ailments and social problems to the victim.

Examples of Sexual Assault

  • Make any type of sexual contact not consented to by the person.
  • Forcibly touching a person on their genitals.
  • When the aggressor forces a person to touch his genitals.
  • Threatening and blackmailing the victim into performing sexual acts.
  • When a person maintains physical sexual contact with another person who is not able to consent to it.
  • Forcing a person to have intercourse against their will.

What is Sexual Abuse?

In general, sexual abuse can be considered as that action or sexual behavior against a person and without their consent, in which there is no use of physical violence or intimidation.

Among the general population, minors (boys, girls and adolescents) are especially vulnerable because they cannot consent to this type of behavior and acts. It is common for the abuser to use different tactics, such as manipulation and deception, in order to manipulate the victims.

Other victims of sexual abuse may be people with a physical or mental disability, since, in many cases, it is not possible for them to give consent. Likewise, people under the influence of alcohol and other drugs who are unable to consent can become victims of sexual abuse.

Abuse implies the misuse of an object, element, and position of power, etc., in such a way that the action causes some damage to something or someone. Thus, abuse supposes an imbalance of power within a relationship (family, colleagues, work).

In this type of act, the victim is unable to express her consent, because she is in a physical or mental state of health that makes her unable to do so. Likewise, it also occurs when the victim feels that she cannot refuse to take part in a sexual act, directly or indirectly (forced to witness a sexual act).

It is important to note that the definition of sexual abuse varies according to the legislation of each State and of different organizations. For example, sexual abuse may also be interpreted or defined as an act in which physical violence is present. This is why it is always recommended to review the relevant legislation for specific cases.

Characteristics of Sexual Abuse

  • The victim does not have the ability to understand what is happening or to give consent.
  • It is an act in which the use of manipulation or control tactics is common.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction, it is considered that there is no presence of physical violence (use of force).
  • Girls, boys and adolescents are the main victims of this type of sexual violence.
  • People with physical or mental disabilities are also common victims, as well as people under the influence (caused or not) of certain drugs or alcohol.
  • It can cause permanent psychological damage, physical ailments and social problems in the victim.

Examples of Sexual Abuse

  • Touching and fondling a person who is unable to consent to their genitalia.
  • Penetrating with any part of the body or object the genitals of a person.
  • Encourage any type of physical genital contact, on the skin or clothing.
  • Using a person without their consent as an object to produce pornographic material.
  • Using language or talking about inappropriate topics for sexual purposes.
  • Maintain any type of non-consensual sexual relationship with a person.


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