Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct is a category of sex crimes that encompasses acts undertaken for sexual gratification against the will of another or without his or her permission. The exact acts encompassed by the crime vary significantly by state and require a careful reading of state statutes. In some states, sexual misconduct refers to acts that do not fall within the precise definitions of rape or sexual assault, while other states may have sexual misconduct statutes that overlap significantly with other sex crimes.

Forms of Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct can include harassment, unwanted touching, exposing oneself, undertaking sexual acts in public, forcing another to commit unwanted sexual acts, and otherwise causing offense or harm to another for purposes of sexual gratification.

In some states, the crime of sexual misconduct also directly addresses circumstances when individuals in position of power exercise their influence to sexually harass or take advantage of another individual in a subordinate position. Thus, for instance, sexual misconduct may arise when a boss sexually harasses an employee, or when a teacher uses a position of authority to take advantage of a student. In many cases, these types of interactions will be illegal even if they appear consensual, since the law finds that the abuse of power for sexual purposes is itself a criminal act and involves the exploitation of trust or authority.

Punishment for Sexual Misconduct

Punishments for sexual assault vary widely depending on the state statute at issue. In many states, sexual misconduct is considered a misdemeanor and may result in jail time, probation, or fines. When the misconduct is particularly egregious, or the defendant is a repeat offender, a felony and more jail time may be charged. Additionally, a guilty charge for sexual misconduct can result in being placed on a sex offender registry listing, which can affect future employment opportunities.

When sexual misconduct is charged as a result of an abuse of authority, a defendant may lose his or her job and possibly be prohibited from taking a similar position in the future. Thus, for instance, teachers or physicians found guilty of sexual misconduct with a student or patient may lose their professional licenses as a result of their illegal actions.

Defending Against Charges of Sexual Misconduct

Like many other sex crimes, defending against charges of sexual misconduct often centers on refuting the allegations of the victim or attempting to show that the allegations are false. In employment contexts, sexual misconduct may be alleged when an employee is disgruntled or holds a grudge against an employer, and a defense against the charges may rely, in part, on showing the victim’s ulterior motives for raising the allegations.

Since sexual misconduct is a criminal charge, a prosecutor must prove that the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant is able to establish inconsistencies in a prosecutor’s case or raise alternative theories for the victim’s actions or perceptions, this can be enough to protect a defendant from a guilty verdict.

It is also important to recognize that consent may be a defense to sexual misconduct in certain circumstances. If the victim alleges that he or she was subjected to unwanted touching or harassment, the defendant can attempt to establish that the victim actually consented to these sexual acts at the time. However, if the sexual misconduct arises from a position of power, consent may not be a legal defense because the abuse of power is a crime even if the subordinate appeared to consent.