Groping is a form of sexual harassment that typically consists of physical touching of inappropriate areas on another person’s body without his or her consent. This type of touching can be grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit, and may lead to jail time. Though the term can also be used to refer to inappropriate or unnecessary public displays of affection between consenting adults, this type of behavior is more properly termed fondling, as it is wanted by both people involved. Groping is generally considered inappropriate in most cultures, and in some areas has become a major public concern.
Though different actions can be considered groping, this type of behavior usually consists of one person touching someone else in a way that is inappropriate and unsolicited. While touching a person who does not wish to be touched is generally considered rude or impolite, groping often involves areas of a person’s body that are considered private or sexual in nature. Touching of women’s breasts, for example, or grabbing of the legs, buttocks, and groin of both men and women is often considered groping.
Role of Consent
The consent of the person being touched is one of the main aspects of groping. If a person being touched is threatened, drunk, asleep, or otherwise unable to consent to the touching, then it is considered illegal. This is true even if the person doing the touching is drunk or not fully in control of his or her actions. Additionally, the person being touched does not have to specifically say that he or she doesn't want to be touched before it happens, especially if the context is clearly non-sexual. If in doubt, it's always better to get explicit consent before touching.
The penalties for groping vary by jurisdiction and according to how it is classified. In many areas of the US, it is seen as a type of sexual battery and can be punishable by a fine or jail time. It can be seen as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the area, duration, and type of touching involved. If a person performs other unwanted sexual activities at the same time, like flashing or frotteurism — which involves rubbing against an unconsenting person — he or she will usually face a harsher penalty. This type of behavior can also contribute to a hostile work environment, and most workplaces consider it grounds for dismissal, particularly if done repeatedly.
In several countries, including Japan, Italy, and India, groping is considered a social problem. Women are particularly at risk, but men experience it as well. This type of behavior often happens in crowded areas, like city streets, subways, and trains, and people of certain ages or genders may be targeted, depending on the area. For instance, students are often at risk of being groped on subways in Japan. Countries with this type of problem take a number of measures to discourage it, including public awareness campaigns, gender-specific public transportation cars, and harsh legal penalties.
Is Groping Sexual Assault?
Groping is a type of sexual assault. It's unwanted sexual contact, and therefore not only unethical but illegal. Victims of groping should alert the police if they're comfortable and, depending on the circumstances, the organization that employs the perpetrator. For example, if the assault takes place in an office, the company should be notified. If assailants are teachers, the schools where they work should be informed. These notifications let organizations identify and support other victims who come forward.
What Is the Definition of Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is when one party performs a sexual act on or with another person who does not consent. Cultural understandings of consent have heavily influenced the law, so the definition of sexual assault has changed over time. Today, the U.S. legal system recognizes that the lack of a "no" doesn't constitute consent -- all parties involved must be of the legal age of consent, in control of their faculties, not under coercion and giving a clear, enthusiastic "yes" to every aspect of the encounter. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and if parties continue with sexual contact after their partner withdraw consent, that is also sexual assault.
What Are the Penalties for Committing Sexual Assault?
There's no statute designating groping as a crime itself, but states and the federal government have laws against sexual assault. Since groping falls under the sexual assault umbrella, you can receive jail time for it.
Legal repercussions vary by state, though they often include prison time. How much depends on the circumstances and the degree of violence involved.
People convicted or credibly accused of sexual assault may also face consequences at their place of employment:
If the assault took place on company property, the employer might launch its own investigation to determine the extent of the problem. For example, company or department culture may condone groping and therefore make it more likely to occur without reports.
What Does Groping Mean?
Groping is a specific type of touching against another person's will. Unfortunately, the very nature of groping can make it difficult to prosecute, as perceptions of what constitutes this act can vary between the victim, perpetrator and even third parties such as witnesses and the U.S. judicial system.
Intentional Nonconsensual Sexual Touching
For an act to be considered groping, it needs to fulfill four characteristics:
- It's sexual
- It's physical contact
- It happens without the consent of all parties
- It's intentional
In many cases, perpetrators use their hands to touch victims' bodies, but pressing or rubbing against someone is also groping. However, talking about touching someone or implying you want to isn't considered groping, though it constitutes sexual harassment.
When authorities are trying to identify and punish groping, one of the difficulties they face is proving intentionality. Many perpetrators claim their acts were accidental or misinterpreted as a way to avoid consequences. In fact, it's common for perpetrators to grope in environments where accidental touching is genuine and frequent.
There's also the issue of whether physical contact is sexual. Perpetrators may toe the line between what is generally considered innocuous and what is considered sexual in an attempt to avoid detection. However, if the act is sexual to the perpetrator, it's groping.
Changing Acceptability With Evolving Social Norms
In the past, groping was considered a normal part of life that certain members of society were expected to endure based on their gender, sexual orientation, race and other factors. However, through the tireless work of victims' advocates, today's justice system recognizes groping and other forms of sexual assault as violence.
What Does It Mean To Grope Someone?
For victims of groping, the experience goes beyond inappropriate touching. There's a societal misconception in the U.S. that sexual assault is about the perpetrator's sexual gratification. While that may be a side benefit to the perpetrator, the act itself is about power. To grope someone is to show that you can do what you want and the victim can't stop you.
Victims of groping and other forms of sexual assault may experience long-term effects as a result. In many cases, victims develop mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder caused by a traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD may experience the following:
- Problems sleeping
- Angry outbursts
- Behaving self destructively
- Trouble remembering the traumatic event
- On-going guilt, shame and fear
These symptoms can make it difficult to function day-to-day.
Sexual assault can be a tool of intimidation. Victims may not feel comfortable returning to the location where it occurred or doing activities associated with the event. Others may lose a general feeling of safety and live in fear that a similar event will happen in the future.