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The Difference Between Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Assault
07 May 2018

The Difference Between Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Assault

sexual misconductPowered by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, more and more people are publicly reporting sexual misconduct. But what’s the difference between sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and sexual assault? Below, attorney Ray Twohig explains the nuances of New Mexico and federal laws.

What Is Sexual Misconduct?

Sexual misconduct is a catchall term for inappropriate sexual behavior, but it isn’t a legal term. While you might hear journalists and commentators talking about “sexual misconduct,” this doesn’t refer to either a specific crime or civil claim. It can encompass a wide variety of allegations, from making unwanted sexual advances to rape.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment typically refers to inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. Under the Civil Rights of 1964 and New Mexico law, it is illegal to:

  • Demand unwanted, sexual favors in exchange for job advancement or retention (sometimes called “quid pro quo” harassment)
  • Create a hostile work environment through inappropriate sexual behavior that is severe or pervasive

These are civil claims demanding financial and other compensation. Typically, an alleged victim must file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a lawsuit against his or her alleged abuser and the employer. If they fail to follow the correct procedures, they might lose their claims.

Sexual harassment claims are complex, especially those involving a hostile work environment.

What Is Sexual Assault?

When you hear someone discussing “sexual assault,” they are referring to a sex crime. In New Mexico, this might involve rape or unwanted sexual contact. There are various degrees of sexual assault, from felony charges to misdemeanors. However, if convicted, some of the penalties are very severe, including life in prison and mandatory sex offender registration.

There are also federal sexual assault charges. Under federal law, sexual assault is any sexual contact that occurs without the alleged victim’s clear consent. Under certain circumstances, you can face both federal and state criminal charges. For example, Dr. Larry Nassar, who abused more than 150 young gymnasts, pled guilty to both state and federal charges involving sexual assault and child pornography. Due to his cumulative sentences, he is facing a life in prison.

What Should I Do If I’m Facing Allegations of a Sex Crime?

Sex crimes can cause a lifetime of suffering. However, it’s important to emphasize that every alleged perpetrator is innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes, assault claims are exaggerated or nuanced.

Claims of sexual assault can have a deep impact on the alleged perpetrator’s family, career, and reputation. The list of powerful men who have recently stepped down from leadership positions due to sexual misconduct claims is astounding.

You might also face criminal charges and civil liability. For this reason, you should immediately consult with an experienced lawyer if you are facing (or anticipate) sexual assault allegations — even if they’re false or misleading. A lawyer can help you fully understand your legal rights, craft defenses, and help you cope with the stress of litigation.

Talk to a Sexual Assault Lawyer at Twohig Law Firm

If you have other questions about sexual misconduct, assault, or harassment, contact Twohig Law Firm. Ray Twohig has more than 40 years of experience and has built a reputation for aggressive and skilled representation. We believe that all of our clients deserve respectful and practical advice and guidance. For a no-risk, confidential consultation, call us today.


  • I have been in the legal field for almost 41 years. I work with lawyers as a consultant all over the US. Ray Twohig is the best of the best. He is very thoughtful, thorough, careful, and... Twohig Law Firm Twohig Law Firm

    - Elliott Oppenheim, MD,JD,LLM Health Law READ MORE


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