Call or Text Us 503-222-6333

What Is the Difference Between Workplace Sexual Harassment and Workplace Sexual Abuse?

What Is the Difference Between Workplace Sexual Harassment and Workplace Sexual AbuseAs an employee, some things may make you a little uncomfortable, such as tight deadlines, difficult projects, and unsatisfied customers or clients. One uncomfortable thing that you should never have to deal with in the workplace is unwanted or inappropriate sexual attention. Sexual misconduct is a serious issue that you should never tolerate. 

If you have experienced inappropriate behavior at work, you may be wondering about the difference between workplace sexual harassment and workplace sexual abuse. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they can have very different consequences and routes to obtain justice through the legal system. At D’Amore Law Group, we are experienced and knowledgeable about Oregon sexual misconduct law. Let us help you understand the differences between workplace sexual harassment vs. workplace sexual abuse, as well as ways you can seek legal remedies for what you have endured. Contact us today.

What Is the Difference Between Workplace Sexual Harassment and Workplace Sexual Abuse?

Anytime you feel uncomfortable with sexual attention at work or anywhere else, you should never feel forced to stay silent for fear of losing your job, getting a demotion, or any other type of reprimand. You have rights both as an employee and as a person. It is also important to know that workplace sexual harassment and assault are not mutually exclusive. They can exist at the same time. 

What Is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

One of the primary differences between these forms of sexual misconduct is physical contact. Workplace sexual harassment generally includes verbal statements of a sexual nature or visuals such as photographs, indecent exposure, or lewd gestures. Some examples include inappropriate jokes or comments directed at you, texts or emails in a private or group setting, or vulgar displays. 

There are specific laws pertaining to harassment in the workplace. These are generally separate actions from the standard civil or criminal court system. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal employment discrimination laws. You have 180 days after the harassment occurred to file a claim with the EEOC. You can also file a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor Industries

What Is Workplace Sexual Abuse?

Workplace sexual abuse involves actual contact and can occur anytime a person purposely touches another person in a sexual manner without their consent. The act does not have to be violent to be considered abuse. Sexual acts that are not forced but are coerced through improper use of power also qualify as workplace sexual abuse. The distribution of sexual photos or videos of the victim without consent can be sexual abuse, even if physical contact did not occur. As always, any sexual activity with a person under 18 or otherwise incapable of giving consent is illegal—regardless of where it happens. 

Unlike workplace sexual harassment, sexual abuse is handled through the court system. Depending on the nature of the abuse and the evidence available, you may file your case in civil court or press criminal charges. Generally, if the prosecutor can prove a criminal case with the available evidence, the plaintiff can prove a civil case because the burden of proof is much lower.

What Is the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case?

The biggest differences between civil and criminal cases are the burden of proof and the punishment. 

In criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. This is the highest burden of proof in law because when the government accuses you of a crime, your freedom is at stake. In civil cases, money is at stake. Therefore, the burden of proof is far lower. A plaintiff in a civil case only has to establish the elements of the case by a preponderance of the evidence—which means that it is more likely than not that what the plaintiff alleges is true.

In a civil case, the defendant is held responsible for the physical, mental, emotional, and financial harm they caused the victim. If someone sexually abused you in the workplace, you deserve compensation. No amount of money can ever erase what happened, but it can help you move forward and hopefully deter your abuser from repeating such behavior. Also, someone can face both criminal and civil lawsuits over sexual abuse. 

Who Is Liable for Workplace Sexual Abuse?

The person who perpetrated the workplace sexual abuse should certainly be held accountable for their actions. There is no excuse for that type of behavior in the workplace or elsewhere. Holding them liable can help prevent them from doing the same thing again to you or to others. 

If others in the workplace encouraged or supported the behavior, they may also be held liable. This is also true if a person in a position of authority knew or should have reasonably known that the abuse was occurring and failed to prevent it. 

Your employer has a duty to ensure a safe working environment and to establish a protocol for reporting sexual abuse or harassment. If someone makes a report, the employer has a duty to take reasonable action. Failing to do so could result in your employer being held partially responsible for the abuse. 

It may be uncomfortable to discuss sexual abuse. Still, speaking openly to your attorney is important so they can help you determine who might be liable for your damages.

Contact Us

Understanding the difference between workplace sexual harassment and workplace sexual abuse can be difficult, but you are not expected to have all the answers. We are here to help. 

The team at D’Amore Law Group understands the sensitive nature of workplace sexual abuse cases, and we can guide you through the process of seeking justice and compensation. 

Our attorneys have decades of experience fighting for the rights of those who have been harmed by acts of others, spanning thousands of cases. We have a deep knowledge of the Oregon legal system and offer a free initial consultation to get an understanding of what you have been through and how we can help. Contact us to schedule your appointment.

Previous Blog Posts:


1050 SW 6th Ave #1100
Portland, OR 97204


4230 Galewood St #200
Lake Oswego, OR 97035


750 NW Charbonneau St #201
Bend, OR 97701


1220 Main St #400
Vancouver, WA 98660

Accessibility Toolbar