Is It “Sexual Harassment” Or “Sexual Assault”?
Sharon Bialek has now come forward as the first women to publicly accuse presidential candidate Herman Cain of what she is referring to as “sexually improper” acts.† Unlike the other three women who have in the past alleged that Cain sexually harassed them, Bialek has presented her account, providing intimate details of the alleged actions.
Now that those details are public, however, many are beginning to wonder if this is not actually a case of “sexual harassment” as it had previously been portrayed, but a story about an alleged sexual assault attempt instead. “Instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it toward his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very shocked. I said, what are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isnít what I came here for. Mr. Cain said, you want a job, right?”
One lawyer states that if the exact details of that account were true, that would be prosecutable as assault and battery in D.C.† Via Talking Points Memo, “If prosecuted at the time, Herman Cain accuser Sharon Bialekís allegations could have qualified as both sexual harassment and assault and battery according to a DC employment lawyer, Debra Katz.”† Slate writer Dave Weigel also refers to the account as sexual assault, as Cain “drove her to the NRA’s D.C. office, and then attempted to take advantage of her.”
Zerlina Maxwell agrees, “‘Sexual assault occurs when “someone touches any part of another person’s body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person’s consent.’ Bialek’s description of Mr. Cain’s alleged actions certainly seem to match the legal definition.”
Another of the previous accusers agrees that Bialek’s account sounds very familiar, and her lawyer states that it “corroborates the claim” of his client, although he will not go into specifics about whether Cain physically and inappropriately touched his client.
So we are left with a myriad of questions to be answered.† The first, of course, is whether the accusations are true, and the second being how many women, if this is true, has this happened to.† But now we need to add an even more important one, which has no relation to Cain at all.
Why would anyone call an incident with these details anything BUT sexual assault?† If a man puts his hands on a woman’s genitals without her permission, and tries to force her head down to his crotch, that is attempted sexual assault.† It doesn’t matter if it’s two strangers, a boss and subordinate, a first date, or a long term relationship.† Attempting to force a sexual act is not harassment.† It isn’t “sexually inappropriate behavior.” And it most definitely isn’t a “bold sexual advance.”
Photo from Gage Skidmore via flickr creative commons