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What classifies as sexual harassment, assault, or abuse and where to turn

BATH, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - It seems every week now a public figure is being outed for sexual misconduct.

While hundreds, even thousands, of women have spoken out already, many are still keeping quiet and don't know which direction to take. 

Sexual misconduct, harassment, assault, or abuse? How do you know what your situation falls under and where to turn to report it?

The Steuben County District Attorney's office says from a harassment standpoint, it's essentially anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable.

"Until we cross some additional lines, that's probably more of a civil issue," Brooks Baker, the Steuben County District Attorney, said. "(It's) The inappropriate comments in the workplace, the hanging up posters that are incorrect. All of those things that we know, or we should know, makes somebody else feel uncomfortable of a sexual nature."

The first step of action is to let someone know, like your supervisor, and create a record of what's going on. 

A collection of misconduct and perpetual, nonstop annoyance can raise the level of harassment but can still have a civil remedy. 

For the case to reach Baker's office, it needs to even be a step above that. 

"From a criminal point of view, to start talking about sex crimes, it has to involve touching and traditionally touching of intimate places (such as) buttocks, breast, genitalia, things like that," Baker said. "That's where you start wandering into the criminal realm in solid terms."

Law enforcement understands that often times sex crimes happen behind closed doors with just the victim as a witness, but these things shouldn't deter you from going to police. 

"We start off with the idea that we credit the victim," Baker said. "If someone comes forward and tells law enforcement what happened to them, they should know that we're going to believe them. That's what we do and that's where we start and then we begin our investigation from there."

Even if there's no physical evidence, Steuben County has convicted perpetrators, so even if you're doubtful, consequences can be still be faced and you're encouraged to report it despite how much time has passed since the crime. 

"This is something, and I think we're seeing it now, once the bright lights come on, there's a lot more of it out there," Baker said. "No one is alone. There are lots of resources we have for victims, and we're going to believe you, so please tell us what's going on and we'll do whatever we can to make it stop and to bring justice to the offender."

The New York State Attorney General's office released a guide on sexual harassment in the workplace. It provides information on which agencies victims can consult for complaints or legal action. 

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