Is Sexual Harassment a Crime in Illinois?
“If you had said to me two weeks ago that a woman was going to say that I had made her uncomfortable and disrespected her in one of these ways I would have said ‘no’ … So, you know, I don’t know. I can’t say.”
That’s now-former Minnesota Senator Al Franken responding to a question about whether or not he thought more women would come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
To some of you, it might seem strange for him to say “I don’t know.” How could he not know whether or not he acted in a sexually inappropriate way? For others, though, his words may hit a chord.
With the rampant growth of the #MeToo movement, more women are coming forward every day with allegations against men in every sector of society. Some of the more prominent ones include:
- Charlie Rose, former anchor on CBS and PBS
- Garrison Keillor, NPR program host
- Glenn Thrush, reporter for the New York Times
- John Lasseter, CCO of Pixar Studios
- Kevin Spacey, Hollywood actor
- Mark Halperin, former NBC and MSNBC analyst
- Matt Lauer, former NBC anchor
Many of these men are accused of touching the victims in inappropriate ways. Others allegedly made sexual comments or engaged in a different kind of sexual misconduct.
In fact, there have been so many allegations about so many man engaging in so many different kinds of “inappropriate” sexual behavior that questions about what constitutes sex crimes and sexual harassment are abounding in the media and personal conversations.
Below, we’re going to detail what Illinois laws state about sexual harassment and sexual assault, and let you know what you can do if you have been accused.
What Exactly Is Sexual Harassment According to Illinois Law?
Illinois statutes detail two main categories of sexual harassment.
- Quid pro quo – An employer or supervisor offers employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors. For example, a boss promises a promotion to a secretary if she agrees to date him. Quid pro quo also works in reverse. If an individual experiences pushback for refusing to engage in sexual behavior for work benefits, a complaint may be filed.
- Hostile work environment – An employer permits or engages in behavior that creates an offensive, intimidating, or hostile work environment. The behavior can be written, verbal, or physical (as long as it does not constitute assault). If an individual is experiencing hostile behavior that serves as an obstacle to fulfilling job responsibilities, a complaint can be filed.
The most important thing to note is that sexual harassment in and of itself is not a crime. However, it may serve as grounds for a civil lawsuit.
The Title VII Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act prevent discrimination based on personal characteristics like gender, race, age, and sexual orientation in workplaces. These protections extend to unpaid interns.
That means individuals can file for personal damages and punitive damages in a civil suit if they believe they have suffered sexual harassment.
Additionally, while sexual harassment itself is not criminal, it is still possible that the specific type of harassment alleged may constitute a crime. Because of this, it is important to understand sexual acts that are defined as crimes under our laws.
How Do the Laws of Illinois Define Sexual Assault?
Illinois statutes define criminal sexual assault as someone committing an act of sexual penetration against someone’s will through the use of coercion, force, or incapacitation. Sexual assault is committed against a victim who does not or cannot provide consent. This statute applies when the act is committed against a family member or a minor. The punishment is a Class 1 felony but can be enhanced to a Class X felony under certain conditions.
In addition to sexual assault, our state also outlaws criminal sexual abuse. This crime is defined as using force or the threat of force to commit an act of sexual conduct without someone else’s consent. It is at minimum a Class A misdemeanor, and charges can be as severe as a Class 2 felony.
Your Options If You are Facing Charges
Know that claims of sexual harassment are difficult to prove in court since they are usually based on “he said, she said” situations. Plaintiffs also must be able to prove that they gave their employer a reasonable chance to improve the situation. Additionally, plaintiffs must follow strict filing guidelines and reporting processes within a narrow statute of limitations for their claims to be valid in state or federal court.
Remember, though, some types of sexual harassment can qualify as criminal acts. For that reason, the minute allegations are brought against you, it’s crucial to contact an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney to help protect your rights.
Even false allegations can damage your reputation for years, and you need someone who will work hard to clear your name from public record and help you craft the strongest possible defense. Reach out today for a free initial case review.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.