Sexual Harassment in Today's Society
Media coverage of alleged sexual harassment is everywhere. The major news networks are not only reporting on past and present allegations but have also assembled panels of “experts” to voice opinions on what all of this means.
How does this impact our culture?All of this has significant implications on our social culture and our interpretation of our past social interactions. Flirtation is a part of normal and healthy romantic interactions and is now being viewed through the lens of sexual harassment, sometimes even retroactively. The current frenzy over sexual harassment is likely causing many people to look back on their own experiences and think that perhaps they might have been victims as well, at least under the current stringent concepts of sexual harassment.
This frenzy is also likely affecting our future social interactions. Many would seem far more reluctant to console another, for fear of accusation, or to flirt with someone they were attracted to. All of these implications are noteworthy.
What is not a focus, however, is how the individuals involved deal with the confrontational event.
Is there a balanced approach?Allegations and accusations of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, are seldom without disagreements. The accuser and the accused are in diametrically opposed positions, with one saying that misconduct occurred and the other either maintaining it did not or arguing the interpretation of the conduct in question. Even the terms used prior to determining actual or legal guilt can at times be prejudicial. Words like "perpetrator" and "victim" are very loaded and charged.
There is also room for error, without denigrating the suffering of those who feel wronged. False or at the very least exaggerated accusations, forced confessions wrenched from the accused, and motives rooted in revenge are prevalent. Shame and embarrassment, fear of reprisals, and the unfounded hope of reconciliation are all also prevalent.
Each side deserves to be heard. Each side, the one accusing and the one being accused, deserves to have an experienced attorney represent their interests and fight on their behalf. Only after a balanced, calm, and holistic approach to the investigation can justice occur.
This guide is a beginning for those individuals.
How does legal analysis fit in?But a preface regarding the legal analysis is also important. Unlike the media, which can be well intentioned or self-righteous, legal analysis does not immediately jump to a conclusion. It certainly does not assume a conclusion and then require a remedy, i.e., punishment, money damages, a loss of contractual rights (getting fired, losing endorsements, being pressured to resign), etc.
Legal analysis, instead, is a process. First, the facts must be determined: what really did happen and what is either false or an exaggeration. Then, the law must be applied to those case facts. There are many sub-steps in this process. After all, complex questions and situations require complex and thoughtful analysis.
Facts are unique and case specific. This requires a complete and unbiased investigation by neutral and objective third parties.
Sexual harassment can be both a civil and criminal offense. Civil law protects and allows individuals to sue (to file a lawsuit) that asserts a claim. Money damages is the primary, but not sole, remedy in civil actions. Criminal law, on the other hand, seeks to protect society (all individuals) from the wrongdoing of a specific individual or corporation. Imprisonment, restitution to the individual victim (to "make that individual whole") and fines are the primary remedies in criminal actions.
How do issues of venue and statutes of limitations apply?Two of the most commonly asked questions in sexual harassment matters are regarding the proper venue and the statute of limitations. Venue is where the action can be filed. Although this is a complex question, it is most often answered by determining where the wrongdoing took place and where the victim and/or accuser reside.
Statute of Limitations (S/L) questions are governed by local law and by proper venue. Civil and criminal S/L are governed by different laws (called statutes), and many times are different. Please use the links below to access additional information per Illinois statutes.
720 ILCS 5/3-6 governs the criminal statute of limitations on many offenses including sex-related offenses - regarding both adult and minors. This also covers offenses such as child pornography and prostitution. See specifically 720 ILCS 5/3-6(j)(1), which states that when the victim is under 18 years of age at the time of a sexual offense, a prosecution may be commenced at any time. This means there is no S/L.
735 ILCS 5/13-202.2 governs the S/L in sexual misconduct involving children, or those under the age of 18. Specifically, 735 ILCS 5/13-202.2(d) states that the S/L does not run during a time that the minor is abused (threatened, intimidated, manipulated, or the victim of fraud perpetrated by the abuser), and that the S/L runs only after the minor reaches the age of 18, and if the person is under a legal disability at the time they turn 18, the S/L does not run until the disability is removed.
720 ILCS 5/11-1.80 is the civil statute for sex crimes, and explains the civil liability that those convicted of a criminal sexual offense are exposed to.
What concerns can an experienced attorney address?This is a complex issue and as such, many complex questions can arise.
What should a victim do?
To whom should a victim report the wrongdoing?
How should the report about the wrongdoing be transmitted?
If confronted, what should the accused do? How should he or she respond?
Is going to the media a good first step?
Is an in-person confrontation with the accused a good idea?
What is the value of the claim? From the victim's perspective? From the perspective of the accused? Whose perspective controls?
Only an experienced local attorney can answer these questions. This is not simple math; it is not 1+1 = 2. Complex questions such as these demand complete, detailed analysis.