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Sex crimes: Understanding the different terms

Recent news in North Dakota and throughout the country has been full of stories associated with the #MeToo movement regarding sexual harassment as well as allegations about a sport doctor's mistreatment of children. In addition, sexual abuse and sexual assault are other sex crimes with which a person may be charged. These are very serious accusations, and it is important to understand these terms, their similarities and how they differ.

Sexual abuse is most often used in regard to children, as opposed to adults. Every state has legislation that specifies that children cannot give consent to a sexual act. The age of consent varies among states from 16 to 18 years old (it's 18 in North Dakota).  Sexual assault can be defined as a range of criminal acts of a sexual nature. It may also be referred to as sexual violence.

Sexual harassment includes coercion, such as tying a person's working condition to sexual cooperation. It also includes unwanted sexual behavior, such as hugging, touching or continual pressure for dates. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the unwanted behavior must be severe enough to cause an abusive working situation. The most common type of sexual harassment, however, is not sexual in nature. It is gender harassment, which includes degrading comments or crude remarks about the opposite sex.

Being charged with any of these sex crimes in North Dakota is a very serious matter that could result in significant time in jail, if convicted. A person would also have to register on a state's sexual offender registry. It is important to remember that everyone has the right to present a defense regarding criminal charges filed against them. An experienced criminal defense attorney will help minimize the disruptions to a client's life.

Source:, "What's the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?", Sarah L. Cook, Lilia M. Cortina and Mary P. Koss, Feb. 7, 2018

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