by | last updated on January 16, 2018

*This is general advice and not a replacement for seeking legal counsel.

Women in silenceSexual harassment.

It’s on everyone’s minds these days.

…and rest assured:

If it has happened to you, you are not alone.

Plus, there is lots of support available and ways to protect yourself from future re-occurrences.

The good news is:

At least with the recent news stories and shakedown, we are all taking it seriously, and working toward bringing the truth forward as a community.

That’s where this article you’re reading right now can help.

I’m going to share clear steps on how to protect yourself and your loved ones from harassment, plus explain a little more about what sexual harassment is…

…and the legal ramifications of sexual harassment in the workplace and schools according to Florida legislature.

NOTE: If you have experienced or been accused of any kind of harassment… Contact a lawyer immediately.  Sexual harassment and lewd behavior are serious charges that affect your entire life.

What is the definition of Sexual Harassment?

“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, another verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”  Legal-dictionary.com

A basic definition of sexual harassment is:

Unwanted requests that are sexual, plus advances or other verbal, written or unwelcome physical behavior of a sexual nature.

Here are some examples:

  • Suggestive comments
  • pressure for sexual contact
  • demands for sex in return for a benefit (such as employment)
  • Jokes of a crude and sexual nature.

On an even more serious note…

sexual harassment often preludes heinous sexual assault, which is a physical attack that is sexual.  (Including groping and rape)

So where does all this stand according to Florida law?

Sexual harassment is part of an area of law called…

Lewd and Lascivious Behavior

According to Florida Law:

Sexual harassment falls under the broader heading of “Lewd and lascivious behavior” which includes other illegal activities that are sexual such as:

  • Indecent exposure
  • Public masturbation
  • Asking or coercing a minor for sex over the internet
  • Sending unwanted sexual texts or media (pictures, videos, gif, etc.)

Here are a few real-life examples:

Lewd and lascivious conduct

Yasmin is a teacher but also attracted to one of her 7th Grade students. One day after adding him on Facebook, she sent him pictures of her naked, asking if he wanted to go to her house.

It is illegal for Jasmin to solicit a minor over the internet. She will face jail time.

Indecent Exposure

It is sexually arousing to Steve to expose himself to others. He likes to sit on the train and expose his genitals to other travelers.

Steve could face fines and jail time for this behavior.

Sexual Harassment

John works with Sarah. He thinks Sarah is sexually attractive and often tells her how sexy she looks or what he would like to do to her- sexually.

Sarah has the right to take Jon to court for his actions.

Let’s look more into workplace harassment:

Sexual harassment at Work

“1 in 3 Women between 18-34 have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” Huffington Post

Every industry from retail to professional and even STEM-related organizations have their issues with harassment.

But, unfortunately….

Although harassment of any form in the workplace is a direct violation of the civil rights act…

Most sexual harassment incidences go unreported.

Of those that do:

Law enforcement is usually not involved unless the offenses involve domestic violence or assault.

Here are some examples of workplace harassment:

  • Commenting on how “sexy” a colleague looks as they walk past
  • Leering or staring of a sexual nature
  • Unwanted and inappropriate physical contact
  • Inappropriately sexual jokes
  • Sending inappropriate emails or texts with sexual content.
  • Sexual blackmail – often involving the request or demand of a sexual act in return for a career benefit (such as a promotion or job).

What to do if someone sexually harasses you at work

Even when the signs of sexual harassment are clear…

Many victims are still not sure what they can do about it. However, the truth is that you have the law on your side and there are ways to protect yourself.

Here are quick steps you can take to stop sexual harassment at work:

Step 1. Speak with the Sexual Harasser directly.

In most mild forms of harassment:

You can stop sexual harassment early by speaking directly with the harasser.

If you feel it is physically safe for you to do so…

…speak to the harasser and tell them to stop.

Let them know that:

If the behavior continues…you file a formal complaint against them.

Most people stop undesirable behavior once spoken to directly and made to understand the possible trouble they can get into for their actions.

However, …

If the sexual harassment doesn’t stop after the first warning:

we should move to step 2.

Step 2. Document Everything

Remember…

Sexual harassment is an illegal activity.

When pressing charges (or file a complaint) against a sexual harasser:

Collecting evidence allows you to strengthen your claims and builds a stronger case.

So keep everything you can which proves the illegal activity such as text messages, emails, photos, videos, etc.

For example:

Sexual abuse often happens online; via email or social media, or over text.

If this has happened to you, save all electronic communications you receive from the offender.

But…

If the sexual harassment happens in person – like unwanted sexual touching, crude remarks or someone trying to pressure you into performing sexual acts:

Take notes. Write down details regarding where, when, and what took place.


Here’s an example of what to write:

Date: Monday, December 11th, 2017 Time: 9:11 am

Details: Steve, from work, sent me a picture of his genitals and asked if I “liked it”. I told him to stop sending me pictures of himself. Image saved.

Step 3. Ask for support from witnesses or victims.

Having witnesses or accounts from other previous or current victims of the same offender gives your claim more authority.

Look for others who may have previously filed complaints against the individual.

Or…

Others are currently experiencing similar issues with the same person you are.

If this is the case:

Ask the other victims to support your formal complaint with written testimonials.

This will give you – and the other victims – a more likely chance of successfully stopping the harassing behavior.

Also…

If there were any witnesses who saw the sexual harassment as it happened, ask them for a written testimony of the incidents.

Getting this support from others will significantly strengthen your claim.

Step 4. Talk to your Superior and/or the HR department

Be ready. Almost 75 percent of all women who reported sexual harassment in the workplace faced retaliation of some sort.

However, by law, an employer must do everything they can to stop sexual harassment in their organization.

And…

The law protects you from receiving any form of punishment for filing an internal complaint against a harasser at work.

Therefore:

You have every right, and the laws support to report a workplace sexual harassment incident.

So…

…If confronting the harasser didn’t stop the behavior…

You can find out whether your organization has a sexual harassment procedure policy and follow it.

This most commonly includes filing a formal written complaint.

If your organization does not have a clear complaint procedure policy in place, bring your documented evidence and testimonials to the relevant manager or HR person.

However, if they are the individual causing the problem:

You can speak with their superior or an individual within your organization who has the power and authority to do something about it.

Quick Note: In this day and age, there are still cases where people are terminated soon after filing a complaint, especially if the offender is in a position or authority or liked by those with power.

If this happens to you:

Step 5. File a Complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

People may not take your case seriously.

Or…

They may try to downplay the incidents to protect the accused and their reputation.

If so, you should contact the EEOC:

The EEOC is a federal agency that investigates sexual harassment allegations.

If filing a complaint with your manager or superior did not result in any action taken:

Lodge a formal “charge of employment discrimination” with the EEOC.

You can do it online, by phone or in person at one of their offices.

If you do go down this road:

The EEOC will ask you for details regarding your employer, the harasser and the incidents that took place.

*Note: Charges of ED with the EEOC must be filed within 180 days of the incident – under normal circumstances.

Step 6. Contact Your Lawyer and file a lawsuit

Once you have complained to the EEOC, you can submit a lawsuit with your lawyer against your employer and seek monetary damages.

A good lawyer will be able to help you to gather everything you need for a strong case against a sexual harasser…

OR against a previous employer who wrongfully terminated you after you filed a sexual harassment complaint.

In that case:

You may be able to receive monetary damages for any lost income due to your termination and more.

Sexual harassment at School

“Each year there are hundreds of reported cases of sexual misconduct among students in educational institutes.” 7 News Miami

Every few months we see stories of teachers being put behind bars for sending inappropriate texts or online messages to young students.

But what’s not often spoken of is how many students actually experience sexual harassment during their school years.

Not only from teachers but from their peers.

In fact:

Over 60% of all students from elementary to high school will experience some form of physical, sexual harassment during their learning years.

And…

Children as young as ten years old have been both victim and offenders of serious sex offenses.

What is sexual harassment in education?

According to the Department of Education’s website, sexual harassment in education:

  • is sexual;
  • is unwelcome; and
  • Denies or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a school’s education program.

This is true for harassment of all forms from peer students, teachers or others in the school or other off-campus locations as part of the educational experience.

Here are a few commonly reported sexual harassment offenses with realistic example scenario:

Unwelcome leering, touching or grabbing by peer students.

Example: When June walks by Tom in the hallway, he always tried to grab her buttocks or genitals. One time he pushed June against a locker and touched her breasts against her will.

Making comments, jokes or actions that are sexual (to minors).

Example: Ms. Lacy likes to tell crude jokes involving detailed sexual scenarios to the young girls in her class. Students do not like it when Ms. Lacy does it. It makes them feel uncomfortable.

Students pressuring others to engage in sexual actions.

Example: Jarrod and Tom pulled Karen into the bathroom and told her that they would only let her leave if she performed oral sex on them.

Teachers, or others, blackmailing students into sexual favors for academic benefit.

Example: Mr. Scott, the football coach, told John that he would give him a star spot on the football team if Mr. Sott let him watch John masturbate.

Students or teachers showing images or other forms of media involving nudity, pornography or lewd activities.

Example: Nathan likes to send pornographic videos to girls in his class telling them that is what he wants to do with them.

Spreading gossip or rumors about a student’s sexual performance.

Example: Heath has been telling everyone in his class how he and Charlotte had sex and “how boring she was on a scale of 1 to 10”.

If any of these has happened to your child, or if you are a student and this is happening to you…

The next question is:

How to Stop Sexual Harassment at School

Students feel helpless and confused in sexual harassment situations. Many don’t know how to protect themselves from those scenarios.

Plus…

It’s devastatingly worrisome for parents to find out that your child is in danger with their teachers or at their school – the people and place that should be the safest alternative outside of the child’s home.

Firstly, both parents and students need to know that:

There are help and support available.

There are multiple areas of Florida legislature there to protect student’s rights and their best interests.

 Sexual Harassment and sexual battery are serious crimes.

(Especially when there is a minor involved.)

In all states – including Florida – it is a felony to physically, and sexually, harass a student under the age of 18.

For example;

By touching their breasts, genitalia or buttocks or the clothes in those areas.

Or…

…sending naked and/or provocative images of a sexual nature with the intent of engaging in sexual activity.

If they do this:

(even in the case that the offender is under the age of 18)

They can still face up to 5 years of jail time and placement on the sex offenders list according to Florida legislate.

But…

If the harasser is 18 years or older and the victim is under 18…

The punishment is more severe and will be up to life imprisonment.

So…

What are quick steps we can take as a student (or parent) if you (or your child) have experienced sexual harassment from a classmate or another person at school?

Step 1. Tell the Harassing student to stop

In some cases, young sexual harassers can be prevented by confronting them directly and forcefully saying no to them.

Don’t let there be any misunderstanding.

When you say “no,” clearly state that their behavior is not acceptable.

For example:

“Do not touch me. I don’t like it.”

“Stay away from me.”

“No, I will not do ….”

Also…

Tell the harasser that you will be notifying the teacher, their parents, the school and even the authorities if necessary…

…Because:

What they are doing is wrong and illegal.

Step 2. Speak with a Trusted Adult

Once you have told the harasser to stop:

Notify a trusted adult to discuss what to do next.

This can be the principal, a trusted teacher or your parents.

Remember…

There is nothing to be ashamed about. It is a serious offense and you have the right to stand up and protect yourself from harassment.

The other reason to speak with a trusted adult is that even if the harasser stops after the first warning, at least your parents and the school know what happened.

This will make any future problems with those students and yourself or others taken more seriously.

Step 3. Take Notes

Write everything that happened down on paper.

Make sure to take notes of when it happened, where it happened and who was there (both the harasser and any witnesses).

Plus:

If the harassment took place by text or online communication, make sure to save all the messages, communications and media received from the harasser.

Just like sexual harassment in the workplace, written notes and saved evidence give more strength to your complaint once you lodge it.

Step 4. File a Report with the School

Every Florida school – by law – must have a sexual harassment procedure policy that explains what to do in case of a sexual harassment incident.

Find out details about your school’s harassment policy from the school’s administration or management office.

Then:

Follow the steps outlined together with a parent or trusted teacher.

Step 5. Contact the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE)

If the case is severe:

Such as forced penetration, indecent exposure or battery – or if the school is not taking your claim seriously…

Contact the Department of Education and make a formal complaint.

For all other states, do a search in Google for:

Sexual Harassment, Lewd & Lascivious Offenses and [Possible] Punishments in Florida

The penalties faced for sexual harassment or assault differ depending on the objective severity of the attack.

A judge will look at influences such as:

  • The age of the victim and offender.
  • The intended or actual physical and psychological harm done to the victim.
  • The lasting effect of the attack on the victim and loss incurred due to the attack.
  • Prior offenses committed by the offender.

Here are the various specific lewd and lascivious offenses and their possible punishments a harasser may receive if convicted in Florida…

Lewd and Lascivious assault of a minor child under 12 years old by an individual over 18 years old:

Up to life imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines. In such severe cases involving a legal adult molesting a child under 12 years old…

…a judge must sentence an individual for at least 25 years.

Keep in mind:

When regarding a minor, “consent” or ignorance of age are never justifiable defenses.

Indecent Exposure

Indecent exposure is when someone shows his or her sexual organs in public. This also includes being naked. Under most circumstances, it is considered a misdemeanor and punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

However….

If done in front of a minor, under the age of 16 years old, it can be considered a felony.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The punishment an individual receives for workplace sexual harassment depends on the action taken and can range from a citation to termination or even jail time if the offense is severe enough.

If an employer fails to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, they can be liable for punitive damages owed to the victim of the crime.

  • Penalties paid include:
  • Lost wages
  • Compensation for psychological or emotional trauma.
  • Lawyers’ fees
  • Lost opportunity fees according to wages the employee may have gained had there not been a sexual harassment incident.

Sexting and child pornography

“Sexting” is when sexually explicit messages, videos or images are transmitted on a mobile device.

It is strictly against the law for anyone to transmit or share images of minors engaging in sexual activity. Even when the communication is between minors.

If a minor (under the legal age of 18) is found guilty of “sexting”, they could face community service for minor offenses or up to 5 years in jail for more serious cases.

Whereas, if the offender is a legal adult of 18 years or over, the penalty can be up to 30 years in jail or life imprisonment.

False Accusations of Sexual Harassment

Imagine being placed on a public sex offenders list when you hadn’t done anything wrong?

It’s a scary thought.

But:

At least 2%-8% of all sexual harassment allegations turn out to be fake…

…which means hundreds of innocent men and women are wrongfully accused each year.

These allegations can be significantly damaging to an individual, socially, psychologically, and often financially because of lost opportunities.

Why would someone make false allegations?

People make fake allegations for many reasons. They could have a personal grudge against the person, or be mentally ill.

Here are some of the most common reasons people have for making false allegations:

  • Jealousy
  • Manipulation
  • Mental illness
  • Seeking vengeance

What can you do if someone accuses you of sexual harassment?

First of all: Contact Your Lawyer. Lewd and lascivious offenses are serious.

It’s important for you to protect yourself from any possible harm that could come to you from wrongful accusations.

If you have been accused of sexual harassment or lewd and lascivious behavior, but you are innocent…

For example, if you have been accused of:

  • Sending an unsolicited naked or sexual image, video or text to an individual (especially a minor)
  • Making multiple crude comments or jokes.
  • Physically, mentally or emotionally sexually assaulting an adult or minor or
  • Exposing your genitals to another in a sexual way

Then…

…you should talk to a legal expert.

They will help you plan and gather all supporting evidence to state your claim and defend yourself in court.

Conclusion

Sexual harassment and lewd behavior are an ongoing issue, not only in South Florida but all over the US. Remember, if it has happened to you…

You’re not alone.

Plus:

We can all do something about it.

Laws are in place to protect and provide justice for victims. There is always something you do to fight back when wrongly treated by anyone.

Just keep in mind…

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment at work or school, you have the right to take the steps, get in touch with a lawyer, and protect yourself.

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