What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
- Submission to such conduct is made an implicit or explicit term or condition of an individual’s academic performance or employment; or
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for decisions about academic evaluations, employment, promotion, transfer, selection for training, performance evaluation, etc.; or
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational or work environment or substantially interferes with a student’s academic performance or an employee’s work performance.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Physical: unwelcome physical or sexual touching, up to and including sexual assault; impeding someone’s movements, or following her or him around
Verbal: sexual comments, jokes, or propositions; pressure for social or sexual activities; requests or demands for sexual favors tied to work or academic
Nonverbal: whistling in a suggestive manner; visual displays of inappropriate or degrading sexual images
Hostile Environment: sexest remarks or behaviors which create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment
Facts About Sexual Harassment
- Sexual harassment is sex discrimination.
Sexual harassment is about power, not sex. It works to keep women “in their place.”
- Sexual harassment is sexual victimization, an insidious form of sex discrimination, not a benign mating ritual.
- 50% to 85% of American women will experience some form of sexual harassment during their academic or working life.
- Sexual harassment must be understood as part of the continuum of violence against women.
- In a typical sexual harassment case, the accuser becomes the accused, and the victim feels twice-victimized.
- Women are nine times more likely than men to quit jobs because of sexual harassment, five times more likely to transfer, and three times more likely to lose jobs.
- 90% of sexual harassment victims are unwilling to come forward for two primary reasons: fear of retaliation and fear of loss of privacy.
- Most harassers are older than their victims, married, and of the same race as their victims. Some harass many women, others harass only once.
- Harassers are found in all types of occupations, at all organizational levels, among college professors as well as in the business and professional world, and among individuals who live otherwise exemplary lives.
Patterns of Sexual Harassment
Most sexual harassment is perpetrated by men against women, though there are also cases of harassment by women against men, and of same-sex harassment perpetrated by either sex. A small percentage of men in the workplace account for the majority of harassers; many of these individuals victimize several women over a period of time.
The essence of sexual harassment is abuse of one’s power or authority, thought the perpetrator might try to convince the victim and him/herself that the behavior is about sexual or romantic interest.
In addition to targeting individuals who have less power within an organization or institution, perpetrators of sexual harassment may choose their victims based on such characteristics as age, perceived passivity or lack of assertiveness, low self-esteem, and other areas of vulnerability that might make it difficult for the victim to protect her- or himself. However, it does not follow that individuals with these characteristics cause the harassment or deserve to be harassed.
Perpetrators of sexual harassment often dismiss or show a lack or regard for the feelings of their victims, even when assertive attempts are made to put an end to the inappropriate behavior. This can be confusing for the victims, and might make her/him feel as if there is no basis for complaining about the harassment.
When confronted about their inappropriate behavior, perpetrators of sexual harassment often act as if they are being victimized. This type of manipulation can make the victim feel guilty about trying to set limits or bringing a complaint against the harasser.
Perpetrators of sexual harassment often test out new victims with minor violations of work, social and interpersonal boundaries. For example they might:
- Tell sexual jokes, display sexual/erotic materials, make comments about one’s body or clothing, or ask questions about one’s sex life
- Violate one’s personal space by apparently nonsexual touching or standing too close
Try to tell the potential victim how to run her/his personal or professional life under the guise of providing “guidance”
- Talk about his/her own personal concerns or relationships, including martial or sexual problems
- Make requests or demands that the potential victim meet him/her outside of normal work hours or the designated workplace
Amorous relationships that might be appropriate in other circumstances are always inappropriate when they occur between a faculty member or officer of the university and any student or employee for whom he or she has a professional responsibility.
Such relationships may have the effect of undermining the atmosphere of trust on which the educational process depends. Those in positions of authority inherently carry the element of power in their relationships with students. It is imperative that those with authority neither abuse, nor appear to abuse, this power entrusted to them. The respect and trust accorded a professor by a student, as well as the power exercised by the professor in giving praise or blame, grades, recommendations for further study and future employment, etc., greatly diminish the student’s actual freedom of choice should sexual favors be included among the professor’s other demands.
Officers and other members of the teaching staff should be aware that any romantic involvements with their students make them liable for formal action against them if a complaint is initiated by a student. Even when both parties have consented to such a relationship, it is the officer or faculty member who will be held accountable for unprofessional behavior. Graduate assistants, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants, also professionally responsible for students, would be wise to exercise special care in their relationships with students they instruct or evaluate.
A faculty member who enters into a sexual relationship with a student (or a supervisor with an employee) where a professional power differential exists must realize that if a charge of sexual harassment is subsequently lodged, experience has shown that it will be exceedingly difficult to prove immunity on the grounds of mutual consent.
Source: George Mason University (2004) What You Should Know About Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault. Fairfax, VA
Why Victims Might be Hesitant to Report Sexual Harassment
- They do not know what sexual harassment is or what their rights are.
- They fear for their personal safety.
- They fear they might lose their job.
- In a classroom setting, they fear that their grade will be hurt.
- They do not want to get the person who is doing the harassment in trouble.
- They are concerned that nothing will be done if they complain.
- They fear criticism from co-workers who may condone or ignore the harassing behavior.
- They fear they will not be believed.
- They fear they will receive unwanted public exposure.
- They fear they may have done something to invite it.
- They are unsure or unaware of complaint procedures.
- They may be from different cultures and practice different traditions
If You Think You Are Being Harassed
Though some offensive comments or gestures might be unintentional, this does not mean that you have to tolerate them. You have a right to tell the offender to stop, and you do not have to explain or justify yourself.
Though some organizations or work environments might seem to tolerate sexual harassment, the law is on the victim’s side. Universities and places of employment have a legal responsibility to protect individuals from sexual harassment.
If you feel harassed or uncomfortable with the way someone is relating to you, trust your instincts. Tell the person that their behavior is making you uncomfortable, and that you want it to stop. If you do not feel able to do this, or if the harasser disregards your message, seek help ASAP.