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AZHARI LLC BLOG

Feb. 14 2019

Illinois Sexual Harassment: Is It Considered a Sex Crime?

Posted By: Sami Azhari

Illinois Sexual Harassment: Is It Considered a Sex Crime?

You probably know that our state takes sex crimes seriously. Get convicted and you could end up in prison for years – and possibly on the sex offender registry.

What about sexual harassment, though? We’ve all been hearing a lot about it over the past few years, but many people still have questions.

One of the most important: is it actually a sex crime?

Short answer: no.

Longer answer: it really depends on the nature of the harassment.

What does that mean?

“Sexual harassment” is a broad category. Although both scenarios cause harm and can lead to weighty consequences, no one would argue that committing rape is the same as someone making sexual comments that have offended others.

Because of this, Illinois law handles these very different cases… well, very differently. One is a criminal offense. The other simply doesn’t live up to the standard of a criminal act.

In fact, in the vast majority of cases, sexual harassment is not a crime, but instead considered a civil matter in this state.

However, in cases where sexual harassment involves unwanted touching, physical intimidation, or particular forms of coercion, things can quickly escalate from civil liability to criminal charges of sexual assault.

In other words, certain types of harassment can be sex crimes. If you are personally facing accusations of this nature, and are confused about whether you’re facing criminal or civil charges – or both – reach out to a sex crime defense attorney for guidance.

In the meantime, this post covers the basic differences between criminal and civil law and potential consequences here in the state of Illinois, depending on whether you’ve been accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Criminal Versus Civil Law in Illinois

There are a number of differences between criminal and civil law. Probably the most obvious and noticeable one is that no one goes to prison after losing in civil court. That doesn’t mean there aren’t penalties, but they’re mostly of the monetary variety.

Beyond consequences, another difference is the question of who files the official charges. Criminal law addresses breaking a law established by the government. So, charges are filed by – and an individual’s offenses are considered to have been committed against – either the state or federal government. Only the government can initiate the prosecution in criminal cases.

On the other hand, civil law deals with disputes between two entities (usually individuals), and typically relates to violations against civil or personal rights. Civil action can be taken by either private or public parties.

Another difference? As demonstrated in our opening example, conduct associated with criminal cases frequently involves intent, while civil cases are usually centered in acts of negligence.

Finally, in criminal cases, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime has been committed. Winning a civil suit, however, only requires that you meet the preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing standard. In other words, your side seemed more right than the other side.

Understanding Illinois Sexual Harassment Laws

In our state, it is public policy that every citizen has the civil right to be free from sexual harassment in employment and education. The specific details of what that means can be found in the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Workplace sexual harassment occurs when someone makes unwanted sexual advances towards a coworker or otherwise engages in inappropriate conduct in the workplace. These actions must interfere with a person’s job and create a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive to qualify as sexual harassment.

Chicago Sexual Harassment Lawyer

When this happens, it is a civil rights violation and there are generally two types of harassment cases: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment.

If you have been accused of sexual harassment, it is advisable for you to contact an experienced Chicago defense attorney before discussing the allegation with your employer. In addition to the points above, there are a series of steps that must be followed within certain time limits or the case may not be valid. Your lawyer will be able to review your case and advise on best course of action.

You could be facing serious consequences, as there are both federal and state laws that address sexual harassment.

Some of the types of civil damages commonly awarded in these types of cases are:

  • Lost wages and other equatable losses related to promotions and favorable work status
  • Compensation for personal injuries, whether physical, mental, or emotional
  • Punitive damages intended to specifically punish offenders, which can reach 4x compensatory damages awarded
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs

Ultimately, these cases tend to be difficult to prosecute. However, all allegations are made part of the public record, potentially following you – whether you are found guilty or not – for life.

Why reach out to a criminal lawyer if you’ll be facing a civil suit?

Caution.

Remember, certain types of acts qualify both as harassment and sex crimes. If you are at all worried your actions might be interpreted as the latter, you want a good defense attorney working the case as early on as possible. Which brings us to…

Understanding Illinois Sexual Assault Laws

The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. The state of Illinois, however, specifies that this crime is committed when an individual commits a penetrative sexual act against another without their consent or ability to give consent.

Because of this, criminal charges of sexual assault are applicable in workplace scenarios when the acts involve sexual penetration and/or when the accused holds a position of authority over the victim.

For instance, if an incident of Quid Pro Quo did, in fact, lead to unwanted sexual penetration, depending on the other circumstances surrounding the act, there may be a case made for sexual assault. There are often conflicting narratives about what happened in these cases, but forensic science and increased police training through sex crime-specific units have limited those conflicts to some extent.

Chicago Sexual Assault Attorney

If there is forensic evidence proving a sexual act took place, there are still defense options available. A knowledgeable Illinois criminal attorney can determine which apply to your specific case.

Otherwise, you may be facing prison time and hefty fines on your own. A first conviction is considered a Class 1 Felony, which carries a sentence of 4-15 years and a fine up to $25,000. Violations beyond that can result in up to 60 years prison time, depending on the circumstances and whether there are any prior rape convictions.

In short, it’s not something to play around with.

 

About the Author

Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.