Sexual misconduct is misconduct of a sexual nature. The term may be used to condemn an act, but in some jurisdictions it has also a legal meaning.
In legal sense, for a person in a position of authority it includes in particular any sexual activity between him or her and one of his or her subordinates. This commonly includes teachers and their students, clergy and their congregants, doctors and their patients, and employers and their employees. While such activity is usually not explicitly illegal, it is often against professional ethical codes. For example, a teacher may be fired and a doctor may have his or her medical license revoked because of sexual misconduct. In addition, the person in the subordinate position may allege sexual harassment.
Entering a sexual relationship with a subordinate, even when the contact is initiated by the latter, is unethical because of the subordinate's vulnerability to the physician and the inequality of power that characterizes the relationship. In the case of the doctor-patient relationship, having a sexual relationship with the patient even after the professional relationship has concluded remains problematic for the physician because of the potential for the patient's continuing dependence on and transference towards the physician. Therefore, sexual relationships with former patients are considered unethical when physicians “use or exploit the trust, knowledge, emotions or influence derived from the previous professional relationship” in any way.
Some activities which are not strictly erotic, e.g. mooning, streaking and skinny dipping, are sometimes also categorized as sexual misconduct.
A literature review of educator sexual misconduct published by the US Department of Education found that 9.6% of high school students have experienced some form of sexual misconduct. In 4% to 43% of cases, the abusers were women. Black, Hispanic, and Native American Indian children are at greatest risk for sexual abuse. Also at increased risk are children with disabilities; the reason for this may be their greater need for individual attention and their possible problems with communicating.
Children who have been victims of educator sexual misconduct usually have low self-esteem, and they are likely to develop suicidal ideation and depression. Because the abuser was a person the child was encouraged to trust, he or she may experience a sense of betrayal.