One area of mental health that Heartland Therapy Connection aims to treat and raise awareness for is the impact of sexual abuse and assault. The discussion of awareness starts with knowing the proper terminology. There is power for a victim, or survivor, of sexual abuse and assault to identify what injustice they experienced. When diving into the definitions of words around sexual abuse, we hope you take care of yourself and take breaks as needed. It’s okay to take our time to understand and better recognize the prevalence and harm of sexual abuse and assault. 

Sexual Harassment 

Sexual harassment is a term that covers unwanted or unwelcome sexual attention—verbal or physical. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recognizes that it is unlawful to harass a person based on their sex. Sexual harassment could be unwelcome sexual advances, remarks of a sexual nature, or offensive comments about a person’s sex or a group to whom the person belongs, such as women or LGBTQ+. 

Harassment can come from people of any sexual identity or orientation. Harassment in the workplace is illegal when “it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision” (EEOC). Off-handed comments or teasing may not result in legal action, although it can negatively impact someone. Sexual harassment can happen in a work or academic setting among peers, coworkers, supervisors, managers, professors, etc. 

Sexual harassment can happen in the following ways: 

  • Continued employment or advancement dependent on sexual favors
  • Requesting sexual favors
  • Jokes referring to sexual acts or sexual orientation
  • Unwanted touching 
  • Discussing sexual stories or fantasies at work, school, or inappropriate places
  • Feeling pressured to engage with someone sexually
  • Exposing oneself
  • Unwanted sexually explicit photos or messages

(RAINN, 2023)

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is behavior or sexual contact that happens without a person’s consent. Consent means permission to do something or mutual agreement. Sexual assault is often a violation of criminal law, whereas sexual harassment is generally a violation of civil law. Sexual harassment is a broad term that may encompass sexual assault, whereas sexual assault does not simply mean only sexual harassment. 

Sexual assault is a term that “refers to a wide range of victimization, separate from rape or attempted rape,” which includes “attacked or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender” (Kanel, 2019, p. 175). This could include force, fondling, grabbing, and verbal threats. 

What is Rape?

Rape may be the culmination of sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace or educational setting, but it is not limited to such environments. Rape is sexual intercourse or forced penetration that could include physical force and psychological coercion (Kanel, 2019, p. 175). Attempted rape may consist of verbal threats of rape. There are also situations where a person voluntarily goes out on a date or engages with a person romantically and may engage in sexual conduct but, at some point, is overpowered or coerced by the offender. In this scenario, the victim had previously consented to get to know the offender yet did not consent to the perpetrated further sexual actions. 

Eyes Open, Now What to Do?

Hopefully, this brief overview of terminology concerning sexual harassment and abuse may be helpful to grow in awareness of your own experience and the experiences of others around you. If you identify as a person who has been offended by such unjust acts, we believe you. You do not have to process this alone. If you know someone who has experienced such unjust actions, please do not invalidate or incur further pain by ignoring what is happening in your workplace, school, or social circles. If you listen to your people and provide support, you can participate in someone’s healing journey. 

If you need further support as you are supporting others or professional support due to the crises of sexual assault or abuse, we would love to connect with you at Heartland Therapy Connection.

Kanel, K. (2019). A Guide To Crisis Intervention. (6th Edition). Cengage Learning Inc.

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