Sexual Harassment

You should be able to feel comfortable in your place of work or learning. If you are being sexually harassed, you can report it to the authorities at your job or school.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment.

Although sexual harassment laws do not usually cover teasing or offhand comments, these behaviors can also be upsetting and have a negative emotional effect.

What does sexual harassment look like?

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. The harasser can identify with any gender and have any relationship to the victim, including being a direct manager, indirect supervisor, coworker, teacher, peer, or colleague.

Some forms of sexual harassment include:

  • Making conditions of employment or advancement dependent on sexual favors, either explicitly or implicitly.
  • Physical acts of sexual assault.
  • Requests for sexual favors.
  • Verbal harassment of a sexual nature, including jokes referring to sexual acts or sexual orientation.
  • Unwanted touching or physical contact.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances.
  • Discussing sexual relations/stories/fantasies at work, school, or in other inappropriate places.
  • Feeling pressured to engage with someone sexually.
  • Exposing oneself or performing sexual acts on oneself.
  • Unwanted sexually explicit photos, emails, or text messages.

What is the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault? What about sexual misconduct?

Sexual harassment is a broad term, including many types of unwelcome verbal and physical sexual attention. Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior, often physical, that occurs without the consent of the victim. Sexual harassment generally violates civil laws—you have a right to work or learn without being harassed—but in many cases is not a criminal act, while sexual assault usually refers to acts that are criminal. Some forms of sexual assault include:

  • Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape.
  • Attempted rape.
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator’s body.
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching.

Sexual misconduct is a non-legal term used informally to describe a broad range of behaviors, which may or may not involve harassment. For example, some companies prohibit sexual relationships between coworkers, or between an employee and their boss, even if the relationship is consensual.

Where can sexual harassment occur?

Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace or learning environment, like a school or university. It can happen in many different scenarios, including after-hours conversations, exchanges in the hallways, and non-office settings of employees or peers.

What can I do when I witness sexual harassment?

You may have heard the term bystander intervention to describe stepping in to help if you see someone who might be in danger or at risk for sexual assault. Bystander intervention can also be a helpful strategy if you witness sexual harassment. You don’t have to be a hero to make a positive impact in someone’s life, and you can intervene in a way that fits your comfort level and is appropriate for the situation. If you choose to step in, you may be able to give the person being harassed a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation. Below are some of the steps you can take if you see someone being sexually harassed—just remember to C.A.R.E., and of course, keep your own safety in mind at all times.

  • Create a distraction. Do what you can to interrupt the harassment, or distract those taking part in the harassment. But remember to make sure that you aren’t putting yourself in danger by doing this. If someone seems like they could become violent, do not draw their attention.
  • Ask directly. Talk directly with the person who is being harassed. If they are being harassed at work or school, offer to accompany them anytime they have to meet with the harasser. If a friend is worried about walking alone to their car at night, offer to walk with them.
  • Refer to an authority. The safest way to intervene for both you and the person being harassed may be to bring in an authority figure. You can talk to another employee, security guard, RA in your dorm, bartender, or bouncer, and they will often be willing to step in.
  • Enlist others. It can be hard to step in alone, especially if you are worried about your own safety or if you don’t think you will be able to help on your own. It may be a good idea to enlist the help of a friend or another bystander.

What are some effects of sexual harassment?

Experiencing sexual harassment may cause some survivors to face emotional, physical, or mental health concerns. Some of them might include:

 

Emotional effects:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Humiliation
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Betrayal
  • Violation
  • Powerlessness and loss of control

Mental health effects:

Physical effects:

Where can I learn more about sexual harassment?

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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