Active Now

Randy D
Discussion » Questions » Life and Society » Is sexual harassment the same thing as sexual abuse or sexual assault?

Is sexual harassment the same thing as sexual abuse or sexual assault?

An acquaintance of mine, who oddly enough happens to be a therapist and gives talks on sexual assault and women's rights, recently took to Facebook to rally the troops around her recent "sexual assault," going so far as to name the perpetrator and everyone involved. She initially used the phrase "sexual assault" and then used the phrase "sexual abuse" later. 

The gist of the story is, she was at a club dancing and some guy asked her inappropriate questions about her nipples. She got mad and told the manager. The manager didn't respond. She then phoned the police with the intent to press sexual assault charges. Nothing came of it. The police told her she was not assaulted, but she insists she was and is now calling out everyone who "wronged" her that night by name insisting they're further victimizing the victim of an assault. Every single person (and now there are dozens) who responded is supporting her, and now the discussion has changed into "This is why women don't report rapes." 

I'm obviously not going to kick off a you-know-what storm and offer my thoughts there, but I think the whole thing is insane. Sure, the guy was a jerk. What he did was sexual harassment and the manager should have taken some kind of action. But, in my opinion, what happened to her was NOT sexual assault or abuse. Her pushing the issue like she is trivializes genuine assault and abuse cases.

Curious to know your thoughts- do you consider harassment, assault, and abuse to be the same thing? And/Or how should this incident have been handled by the management and the woman?

Posted - May 14, 2019


  • 36409

      Legally speaking, there are distinct differences between the three of them.  Colloquially speaking, or in layman’s terms, the lines separating the three are blurred. 
      May 14, 2019 2:31 PM MDT

  • 14009

    What your friend experienced was sexual harassment.  It would have been sexual assault or sexual abuse if he had put his hands on her in any way.  I think your friend made a mountain out of a molehill although the manager should have asked the guy to either leave or move far enough away so as not to be able to communicate with her.

      May 14, 2019 2:31 PM MDT

  • 7886
    In my defense, she's not a "friend." I just took a class with her a couple years ago. 

    My gut reaction was that the manager should have kicked the guy out, but after reading yours and Randy's comments, I realized that it really did come down to his word versus hers. I have no reason to question whether he said it or not. I think she's being truthful, but the manager doesn't know either of them. Tough spot to be in. It's hard to say he should have kicked the guy out if it's one person's word versus another. For all he knew, the woman could have been lying. 

    Anyway, thanks for your response. 
      May 15, 2019 10:21 AM MDT

  • 36409

      There appears to be quite a stretch from the described incident and a supposition as to how it explains why some women don‘t report rape.  The alleged victim in this case seems to be more angry with the response and/or lack thereof than she is with the act itself. Not only is the club manager limited in what he or she can legally do, so are the police.  In order to take action against the alleged perpetrator, it could possibly take much more than the woman’s word of what was said to her.  While she may be facing the situation for the first time, a club owner and a police department have probably dealt with these previously.  Becoming defendants in a civil lawsuit is not high on the list of either party, but it is certainly on the horizon if a false arrest, false charge, or defamation case is filed by the man.

      I don’t know who is right nor who is wrong here, and I can’t side with either without knowing more facts, many of which may never surface.


      May 14, 2019 2:46 PM MDT

  • 7886
    Good points. I didn't consider what challenges the manager might be dealing with too. Kind of casts it all in a different light. 
      May 15, 2019 10:22 AM MDT

  • Not to say he should,  but the manager could have legally made him leave if he wanted.
    I been a bouncer,  you can eject a patron for just about any reason you want as long as it isn't refusing service on race, sex, gender, etc.

    Making patrons uncomfortable is all the reason you need to eject a person from a bar.  I've removed guys for sharing too much and making people feel uneasy.
      May 15, 2019 10:39 AM MDT

  • If it's unwarranted, it's sexual assault.  Were you wanting to assault me?  I warrant!  This post was edited by Benedict Arnold at May 15, 2019 10:22 AM MDT
      May 14, 2019 3:04 PM MDT

  • 7886
    Sexually assault or just assault? 

    Just kidding. I think you're safe either way. 
      May 15, 2019 10:24 AM MDT

  • Dammit, one little omittance of a word and I get shot gown.  
      May 15, 2019 11:47 AM MDT

  • 46201
      May 15, 2019 11:48 AM MDT

  • Screw it, I'm gonna leave it so everyone will stop worshiping me and realize I'm fallible. :P This post was edited by Benedict Arnold at May 15, 2019 11:53 AM MDT
      May 15, 2019 11:52 AM MDT

  • It is just a crass and uncouth comment given the scenario.  If she asked him to stop and he continued then it is sexual harassment.  

    Her claiming it was a sexual assault with no physical contact then she is indeed trivializing victims of sexual assault.

    The guy is pig no doubt. virtue signaling is no metric of her claims being valid or not.  You can find an echo chamber of validation on social media for anything.
      May 14, 2019 3:06 PM MDT

  • 4655
    Yep ... if she didn't ask him to stop or similar, it isn't even harassment.
    It's not harassment until you let the person know it's unwanted.

      May 14, 2019 3:22 PM MDT

  • Or there is a power dynamic.
      May 14, 2019 5:25 PM MDT

  • 4655
    ehhhhh ... depending on what you mean.

    Just because the boss constantly asks out the secretary (for example) doesn't make it sexual harassment ... unless she has made it known it's unwanted, or he ties it to her job.

      May 15, 2019 6:57 AM MDT

  • Yet if a boss ask a secretary why her nipples are so perky.  It is always sexual Harrassment from the get go.

    Power dynamics matter,  maybe not to the degree the college campus crowd claims,  but much more than you are suggesting
      May 15, 2019 10:35 AM MDT

  • sounds like a crappy victim mentality. its harassment for sure but its equal to some guy whistling out his car. I'm not saying this  behavior is ok but it's easy to handle on your own, just tell him to piss off OR just completely ignore him. 
      May 14, 2019 3:21 PM MDT

  • 7886
    Yes. That was my thought too. I think you said it better than I would have though. I don't want to normalize the behavior that guy had and make it seem like it was ok, but at the same time, this is the kind of crap people deal with all the time. There are far better ways to handle it. 
      May 15, 2019 10:33 AM MDT

  • 13469
    Sexual harrassment is illegal behavior within the confines of employment law.

    Sexual assault and rape are crimes against persons and fall under the criminal code.
      May 14, 2019 5:30 PM MDT

  • 22688
    It is neither. He was a crude flirt. 
    If he would have continued his comments after she made it clear she did not approve the would have moved to harassment. (Telling the manager counts as making it clear)
    At that point, he had done nothing wrong criminally for the police or even the manager to step in. 
      May 14, 2019 5:34 PM MDT

  • 6948
    The laws vary, but a charge of sexual assault requires contact of some sort between victim and perpetrator.

    The following is from an internal government agency publication:

    Sexual harassment includes obvious things such as an invitation to have sex in exchange for favors or unwelcome intimate touching, patting, or grabbing. It can also include less obvious behaviors such as making repeated comments about a person’s appearance.

    Other behaviors — such as brushing up against someone, displaying sexually explicit pictures or e-mails, and making frequent sexual comments or jokes — may also constitute sexual harassment.

    Examples of harassment may include: (1) making offensive or derogatory comments, nicknames, or slurs; (2) engaging in negative stereotyping; or (3) engaging in physically threatening, intimidating, or humiliating actions. Harassment also may include circulating written or graphic material (by paper or email or by making it viewable in the workplace) that belittles or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group.

    The management wasn't much help, but I'm not sure what he realistically could have done. This post was edited by tom jackson at May 15, 2019 10:33 AM MDT
      May 14, 2019 5:39 PM MDT

  • 5929
    Not to me. I am not familiar with the legalities but for me the latter two would qualify as harassment as well while the former would not be abuse or assault.  Abuse would be using one's position to enforce sexual compliance.  For instance if my boss insisted I have sex with him or preform sexual favors.  An assault, as I see it, would be an attack which would be sexual if sex was involved.  Harassment results when sexual talk or innuendos or gestures prevent us from attending to our daily business. 

    A lot of men will make comments like that in an attempt to make us uncomfortable or to fluster us just to feel more personally powerful that they are able to have that power over us.  Best to not respond to them or play their game but just ignore them.  Some of it is they resent whatever natural sexual power we have over them.  Or supposedly have over them.  They know they are not going to get anywhere with us by such comments but they just make them to be "bad boys" or show they don't care and to demonstrate that we have no power over them.  If they keep on to the extent that we cannot enjoy our evening out dancing it is indeed harassment. Or if they are purposely trying to destroy our evening. 

    This is just me but when I was single, which was for many years, I would sometimes go to clubs (mostly when I was younger) and bars but the places I went there was very little of that kind of thing.  Mostly just silly stuff like when they would say things like oh don't you want to do yourself a favor and be with me, I've got 12 inches and why don't you want to feel good?   Most men were nice and respectful and why would I even want to go to a place where I would expect they would not be? 

    And though I think we should wear what we feel best expresses ourselves I would never wear anything showing my nipples.  Not that anything is wrong with that if we can pull it off but I would think in doing that we could expect some kind of feedback or direct response.  Worse would be to do it expecting that so we can get on our high horses and make a point and so be righteously outraged. 

    I don't know - I don't think anyone has ever noticed my nipples in public much less commented upon them.  So I guess she must be pretty attractive anyway to receive that kind of attention negative though it be. Which she probably knows she is. But I would just have taken all that as a matter of course and see no reason to get upset about men just being men. 

    As far as reporting a rape well that is extremely personal for us and as personal a violation as there is so of course we don't want to share our pain and lack of power over our own body with the world. I have told on here about how when I was 19 I was righteously indignant and prosecuted   just because I thought it was the right thing to do.  Well they rather had a field day with me as I was so ready to candidly tell everything (much as many years later I have been doing on the net) which only served to make me sound like a real freak which was how people chose to view me. That I would even talk about that stuff.  Which is the way I guess most people still feel. 
      May 15, 2019 7:53 AM MDT

  • 7886
    You brought up a few interesting points. I agree with you on almost all of what you wrote, particularly as it relates to defining things.

    That said, I want to address the clothing part first. I recently caught an article on how there was an exhibit in the UK. Someone gathered up the outfits women wore when they were sexually assaulted and put the clothes on display. It's a really powerful exhibit and I encourage everyone to check it out. Here's one story on it:

    What's interesting is that you assumed she was displaying her nipples and that's why the guy commented. She wasn't. She's a breast cancer survivor and was talking to one of her friends about her mastectomy and reconstructive surgery when the guy butted in and started asking her questions about how they looked. That may have been something I should have mentioned in the intro. I wonder if it changes some of the responses here. From what I make of it, it was a medical discussion. He jumped in with questions about what her nipples look like post-surgery. Inappropriate questions none-the-less... but I wonder if that changes the dynamics of it at all. I mean, if you hug your friend in public, that doesn't mean you're inviting everyone to hug you. If you talk with your friend about your breasts in public, strangers should not feel invited to comment. Or, maybe they should. Was he there and part of the discussion and she just didn't like where he took it or was he someone who walked up and inserted himself into the discussion. That, I do not know, nor am I certain it makes a difference. But, for what it's worth, she wasn't putting her nipples on display, although I'm also not certain it would matter if she did, especially taking the link I added earlier into context. That aspect of it kind of rubs me the wrong way because, even if she was, what difference should it make? That's akin to suggesting that, because I'm a large-busted woman who could not hide "the girls" if I wanted to, that I'm inviting critique on them every time I go out in public. 

    As for your last paragraph, I'm not sure I follow. It looks like you're saying you've been prosecuted on here for discussing having been raped. I think I've been in some of those discussions. I also discuss my sexual assault history. Discussing it doesn't make anyone a freak. That was one of the points of the #MeToo movement, which we've also discussed; that sexual harassment and assault happens way more than anyone realizes and people should be able to talk about it. It needs to be discussed. Rape is never ok and the victim is never wrong. Period. I think we maybe have dissected the incidents- was this rape or not? Was the person told "no?" Why wasn't it reported? That sort of thing. I'm digging through the recesses of my mind trying to remember a discussion where you might have felt persecuted because that would tick me off. You should never feel that way. But, I can see how you might have with the above line of questioning, if that's what you're referencing. It kind of goes along with the clothing reference. Questioning the victim and looking for where to assign fault. I wonder where that line is. Obviously, we can't accept everything at face value. Some questions should be asked, lest we're persecuting the alleged attacker erroneously. I don't know if there's a way to shift the dialogue in a meaningful way- in a way that offers support without placing blame on the victim. But, for what it's worth, if you've felt persecuted here over that, I am truly sorry, especially if I've been involved in any of those discussions. 

      May 15, 2019 11:02 AM MDT

  • 5929
    You did not mention what she was wearing to her club.  And I stated very clearly that we are entitled to wear what we feel best expresses ourselves.  And that nothing is wrong with that.  I was very careful. I was trying to imagine why anyone would comment on her nipples.  You have now made that very clear.  Thank you.  Not sure why it was not mentioned before - would have saved the speculation. Perhaps you were trying to catch us posting something politically incorrect. Now I have learned much from your posts but there is no need to educate me in things I learned almost 40 years ago.  Just amazes me that young people assume everything like that started recently with "metoo".  I can tell you that is not the case. These are issues I was discussing and learning about in the 1970s and 80s. 

    I do know that there are many women now who do make a point of showing more of themselves publicly than we did when we were young or any time.  Which - that is their business and I am not blaming them.  Who knows but if I had the looks and figure I would have done it as well.  Now you may view the size of your bust as a handicap and a burden but please believe me there are some of us who are envious. Those of us without the looks and figure nd boobs have to develop other aspects of ourselves and most of us are not as smart as you are so we are operating in a more limited sphere. 

    There are many good reasons we choose not to report sexual assault - not the least of which it is almost impossible to prove in court.  I rather learned this the hard way and it changed me.  As did all the public reactions  to the things I told in court which I was advised to steer clear of.  I guess I thought at the time (oh I was 20 rather than 19!) that people should know about such things and what happens and what we feel and how we think. Perhaps they did but not if we are trying to prosecute. 

    I have complimented you many times on your willingness to be honest and candid about very personal matters.  Which is for me one of the primary joys on this site.  Perhaps growing up with the net you were always that way but I never had any idea of what that meant until ten years ago. When I met several women on AB similarly unafraid to be honest and candid.  Even with my background that was something I hardly knew existed.  In feminist classes we learned to get over some of our hang-ups about how we felt about ourselves and how we discussed our feelings and experiences. But only with one another and I never dreamed I would one day be posting the kind of things about myself that I have in the last ten years. 

    Which, let's face it, few on this site have any interest in.  As far as AdultMug only three of four of us even participate.  Which I think is an accurate demonstration of how much, after all, many of us are still uncomfortable talking about such things.  Publicly. OK so I am interested in love and sex and always have been - if that makes me seem a freak to people then well so be it, I will accept that.

    Dear the main thing that does bother me , and this has really nothing to do with the subject at hand, is that sometimes you have interpreted my posts in terms of what I have revealed about myself on here or perhaps on AB.  As though somehow, if I happen to be "easy",  I must belong to a different species when are feelings are so much the same.  Which I don't think is fair.  I realize that we all take what we know about someone and use that to expand upon in understanding them. And yes I have done the same in posts meant for you and the possibility exist that perhaps you felt I was, under the circumstances, not being fair to you. 
      May 15, 2019 8:49 PM MDT