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When Does Sexual Harassment Become a Crime?

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Defining Criminal Sexual Harassment

Most people are aware that sexual harassment is a very serious issue that can have severe consequences. Whether it happens in the workplace, at school or in a public place, certain offensive behaviors may lead to civil penalties and lawsuits.

In some cases, instances of sexual harassment may actually be punished with criminal penalties. Cases of sexual harassment which involve certain related illegal actions can involve arrests and criminal prosecution. Although many of these cases are not prosecuted in a court of law, it’s important to understand how these behaviors are handled in order to secure a good legal defense.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Many different behaviors fall into the category of sexual harassment. In general, harassing behavior includes any actions that cause others to be bothered, annoyed, frightened or concerned for their safety or the well-being of their property. If this type of behavior occurs in a manner that involves sexual activity or lewd suggestions, sexual harassment complaints may be filed.

In many cases, sexual harassment occurs when one person makes sexual advances, proposes sexual activity or uses inappropriate language towards another person who does not consent to this behavior. This can include actions like:

  • Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature
  • The creation of a hostile environment
  • Threats or retaliation to coerce sexual activity

Consider the following example. Brad works for an internet marketing company. Brad’s boss calls him in for a performance review every two weeks. At each one of these meetings, Brad’s boss makes lewd suggestions about sexual activity and comments on Brad’s appearance in a graphic way. Brad may file a complaint for sexual harassment because the sexual remarks are unwelcome and they are creating a hostile work environment.

In another example, Leticia is approached by her co-worker Michael. Michael states that if Leticia has sex with him, he will give her a recommendation for a promotion. Leticia refuses and Michael tells his supervisor that Leticia has been stealing from work to get her fired. Leticia may file a complaint and possibly pursue a lawsuit for sexual harassment.

Both of these cases have strong evidence of sexual harassment. In most cases, sexual harassment will not lead to criminal charges. However, if one of these situations crosses a certain line, the justice system can quickly become involved.

When Harassment Becomes A Crime

Although harassment itself is not technically against the law, some of the behaviors that can accompany harassment are strictly illegal. Some of these behaviors include:

  • Assault
  • Indecent Exposure
  • Sexual Assault
  • Stalking
  • Illegal Recording or Photography

Consider the examples of Brad and Leticia again. In the first scenario, Brad experiences lewd comments and an unwelcome workplace environment. If that scenario takes a different turn, criminal charges might be filed.

For example, suppose that Brad firmly rejects the sexual advances of his boss. His boss becomes angry and pushes and slaps Brad across the face. Brad may contact the police and file a criminal complaint for the assault that his boss carried out.

In Leticia’s example, suppose once more that she refuses the sexual advances of Michael. Michael grows very angry and he begins following Leticia home from work. He sends gifts to her home, takes photos of her around town and sends her explicit photographs. Michael may be arrested and criminally prosecuted for stalking, harassment, illegal recording and lewd conduct.

It is important to note that sexual harassment is not always against the law. However, harassment itself is a criminal offense in the state of Texas. A person can be arrested and charged with harassment if they engage in certain behaviors, such as:

  • Repeated unwanted phone calls, text messages or emails
  • Sending unwanted gifts
  • Following someone
  • Causing another person to fear for their safety or the safety of their family or property.

Legal Penalties

A conviction for sexual harassment-related offenses can be very serious. For example, a conviction for sexual assault in Texas is a felony of the second degree, punishable by:

  • Up to 20 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Mandatory registration as a sex offender

If a person is accused of sexual harassment and then engages in other harassing behaviors, such as unwanted phone calls or stalking, they may be arrested and charged with a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • A fine of up to $2000
  • A restraining order

Legal Defenses

A person who has been accused of sexual harassment should act fast to find legal representation. Time is a very important factor in these cases. Even one accusation of sexual harassment can seriously derail a person’s life and career.

An experienced defense attorney may be able to help such a person collect evidence and witness testimony that may potentially exonerate them of harassment charges in court.


Have you recently been accused of sexual harassment? Immediately retaining a strong legal defense is the best way to protect against serious consequences. Attorney Brett A. Podolsky can help protect your rights. Contact his office today at 713-227-0087.

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