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Explainer: How Sexual Harassment is different from Sexual Assault


New Delhi, Jan 28: The Bombay High Court is on the trend after the single judge bench recently pronounced two verdicts following "the act of holding a girl's hands and opening the zip of pants will not come under the definition of sexual assault" and "groping a minor's breast without "skin-to-skin contact" cannot be termed as sexual assault" both under POCSO act.

How Sexual Harassment is different from Sexual Assault

What is the difference between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault:

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior, often physical, that occurs without the consent of the victim.

The term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. But sexual assault overlaps with rape because the term includes rape.

Some forms of sexual assault include:

  • Penetration of the victim's body, also known as rape.
  • Attempted rape.
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator's body.
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching.

What is the punishment for Sexual assault under the IPC?

Such an act is punishable with either simple or rigorous imprisonment of up to 2 years, or a fine, or both.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment.

Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is a broader term than sexual assault, encompassing two categories of impermissible behavior.

One is sexual coercion, which is legally termed "quid pro quo harassment" - referring to implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation.

Unwanted sexual attention: This one covers unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient.

Unwanted sexual attention can include sexual assault and even rape.

How is Sexual Harassment defined under the IPC?

  • Physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures.
  • A demand or request for sexual favours.
  • Showing pornography against the will of a woman.
  • Making sexually coloured remarks.

What is the punishment for Sexual Harassment under the IPC?

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    The punishment for (i), (ii) and (iii) as given above is rigorous imprisonment for a term that may extend to 3 years, or a fine, or both while the punishment for (iv) is either simple or rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to 1 year, or a fine, or both.

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