Unwelcome Touching of a Sexual Nature Constitutes Sexual Harassment in New York, and It Is Also a Crime

handcuffsSexual harassment in the workplace may consist of a wide variety of actions, ranging from inappropriate sexual comments or jokes to unwanted touching of a sexual nature. Some of these acts may also constitute criminal offenses under New York sexual harassment law, which identifies multiple offenses involving unwanted physical contact. The news media have focused a great deal of recent attention on allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against a well-known Hollywood producer. These allegations demonstrate the range of conduct that counts as sexual harassment under the law, and how some acts violate not only employment anti-discrimination law but criminal law as well.

The allegations against the Hollywood producer include numerous acts that might constitute an assault-related offense or worse. According to reporting by the New York Times and New Yorker magazine, numerous actresses have come forward in recent weeks with accounts of harassment and abuse. Several women have accused him of forcing them to engage in sexual activity, or threatening their careers in Hollywood if they did not engage in sexual activity. Employment laws address these issues in several ways, but the role of criminal statutes in these types of situations is also critically important.

Assault and Related Offenses

New York’s Penal Law classifies numerous offenses as “Offenses Against the Person” and further divides this group into subcategories. Two of these categories, “Assault and Related Offenses” and “Sex Offenses,” may be relevant in some sexual harassment cases. Touching another person without their consent can be a crime, even if no injury resulted, if the person reasonably feared an injury.

The Penal Law defines “physical injury” as “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.” Offenses actually titled “assault” in the Penal Law often require proof of intent to cause physical injury, or proof that a person “recklessly cause[d] physical injury to another person.” Acts that constitute sexual harassment might occasionally meet this definition, but other offenses defined by the Penal Law probably apply to more incidents.

The offense of “menacing in the third degree,” a class B misdemeanor, occurs when someone intentionally puts someone else in fear of a physical injury through “physical menace.” “Stalking in the fourth degree,” also a class B misdemeanor, involves “a course of conduct directed at a specific person,” which has “no legitimate purpose,” and which the person knows or should know “is likely to cause reasonable fear of material harm” to another person.

Sex Offenses

Sex offenses deal specifically with unwanted touching of a person’s genitals or intimate areas without consent. This section of the Penal Law addresses rape and sexual assault, in which a person uses force or a threat of force to compel another person to engage in sexual activity. It also addresses other acts that often appear among sexual harassment allegations.

The offense of “forcible touching,” a class A misdemeanor, may involve touching a person’s intimate areas “for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person,” and it specifically includes “squeezing, grabbing, or pinching.” Repeated incidents of forcible touching may lead to a charge of “persistent sexual abuse,” a class E felony.

Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment lawyers advocate for the rights of New York City workers in claims for unlawful workplace practices like sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

The Casting Couch Is Not Consensual: How a Coerced Sexual Relationship Constitutes Sexual Harassment Under New York Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 30, 2017

In New York City, Sexual Harassment Isn’t Just in the Movies, or the Movie Business, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 27, 2017

When the Sexual Harasser Is Also the Boss in New York, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 24, 2017

Photo credit: KlausHausmann [CC0 1.0], via Pixabay.

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