What is Sexual Misconduct?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 January 2020
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Sexual misconduct is a legal term that refers to any type of sexual behavior that makes another person feel violated or uncomfortable. It can vary from actual physical sexual contact, such as vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex, or manual touching of the genitals, to sexually based comments or jokes that are unwanted by the receiving person. Intent is also a contributing factor to what constitutes misconduct. If the perpetrator uses sexual contact or remarks as a means to control or humiliate a victim, it is more likely to be immediately prosecuted as sexual misconduct than a person who does not realize the extent of the inappropriateness of his or her behavior.

Although the exact definitions and punishments for sexual misconduct may vary according to the country, region, or state the acts occur in, one of the most common factors in determining misconduct is consent. All parties involved in sexual contact must verbally agree to it. Even if a person does not say no, sexual contact can still be considered misconduct unless he or she explicitly agrees in clear language. Lack of clear consent is often considered the same as a victim saying no outright.


A person can be prosecuted for sexual misconduct if his or her partner feels pressured into sexual contact but is not comfortable enough to say no. This instance can happen in abusive relationships when one partner fears the consequences of not physically consenting to sexual activity. If one person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or asleep when sexual contact takes place, it is often legally considered misconduct because the person is not in a state of mind to be able to consent. A minor cannot legally give consent to sexual activity, so any sexual contact between an adult and a minor will be misconduct; however, the age of consent varies between countries, regions, and states.

Sexual misconduct can also occur if a person in a higher position of power, such as a boss or professor, offers a subordinate any type of reward in exchange for sexual contact. If a subordinate is threatened with punishment, such as losing his or her job or receiving lower grade, for not consenting, it can be considered sexual misconduct. Many workplaces or educational institutions will forbid any type of sexual relationships between superiors and subordinates in order to ensure all employees and students are treated equally.


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