Sexual Harassment: Does Colorado Consider It a Crime?
Posted By: Jacob Martinez
Category: Sexual Harassment
While the circus of another presidential election is underway once again, the #MeToo movement continues to inspire conversation and bring forward accusations against predatory men. One candidate is already under fire for his alleged misconduct toward women.
Surprisingly, it’s not the President (although he has repeatedly been accused of sexual misconduct and sexual assault). No, it’s Democratic candidate (and Former Vice President) Joe Biden who has been accused of inappropriate touching and sexual harassment.
As of this writing, two women have come forward accusing Joe Biden of inappropriately touching them at some point over the past decade.
For anyone who’s been paying attention, Biden’s actions aren’t really new information. For years, but especially since as his potential presidential run has picked up steam, media figures have shared countless photos of the Vice President getting quite close to female colleagues at various points of his career. Kellyanne Conway has even called him “Creepy Uncle Joe.”
Other women, including Alyssa Milano and Meghan McCain, have come to Biden’s defense. Biden has also been credited as being an advocate for the #MeToo movement, giving powerful speeches against sexual assault.
Remember, sexual assault is not the same act as sexual harassment. The lines become more blurred when we look at Biden’s accusations as compared to, say, the accusations against President Trump or Harvey Weinstein.
However, the accusations bring up many questions for men across the country. Are these women accusing Joe Biden of a crime? Could men in Colorado be put in jail for similar behavior? Is sexual harassment even considered a crime?
What Is Sexual Harassment According to Colorado Law?
Before we look at the criminal aspects of sexual harassment, let’s lay out the definition of the term.
Colorado defines sexual harassment as behavior that “occurs when a hostile work environment based on an individual’s sex or sexual orientation has been created.”
The definition includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and sexual conduct (verbal or physical) when the employee is required to submit to the conduct. If the employee turns down the conduct and is subsequently fired or denied a promotion, the employer may also be accused of sexual harassment.
Understand that no contact has to occur for sexual harassment to occur. A simple “joke” about requesting sexual favors or making physical advances that make a coworker uncomfortable could be considered sexual harassment.
Is Sexual Harassment a Crime in Colorado?
Sexual harassment is unlawful because it discriminates based on sex, which is a direct violation of Title VII. However, police and prosecutors will not come breaking down your door to arrest you if you are accused of sexual harassment.
However, an employee could bring an employer up for sexual harassment in a civil trial. The results of a civil case surrounding sexual harassment will not go on the employer’s permanent criminal record, but news of the trial may still scar the employer’s ability to work or do business in the state as successfully as before the accusations.
So sexual harassment in general is not a crime in our state. However, there are particular ways of harassing someone that can qualify as criminal acts.
Unlawful Sexual Conduct and Sexual Assault Crimes in Colorado
Sexual harassment or inappropriate touching becomes a crime in Colorado when it falls under the definition of unlawful sexual conduct or sexual assault.
Unlawful Sexual Conduct
Colorado defines unlawful sexual conduct as knowingly touching a victim’s intimate parts, or forcing the victim to touch the defendant’s intimate parts, over or under clothes, when the victim doesn’t consent to the conduct. A sleeping victim, an unconscious victim, a minor, or a victim under the influence of “date rape” drugs cannot consent under any circumstances.
Unlawful sexual conduct is typically a Class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado, although under certain circumstances the charges are elevated to a Class 4 felony.
Sexual Assault (Rape)
Colorado defines sexual assault as intentional penetration or sexual intrusion through force or coercion if the victim does not understand the contact is of a sexual nature, or is not able to consent. This is an incredibly serious charge in Colorado.
Generally, sexual assault is charged as a Class 4 felony, though in some rare cases, defendants will face a misdemeanor charge.
Penalties begin at up to 12 years in prison, up to $500,000 in fines, and three years of mandatory parole. If the victim was a minor, was given date rape drugs, or the defendant used a deadly weapon, the penalties will become even more severe.
There Are Ways to Defend against Colorado Sex Crime Charges
Remember, sexual harassment is not necessarily a criminal offense, but it can become one depending on the specific actions involved.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.