Sexual Harassment refers to verbal or physical harassment that is sexual in nature and can happen in any situation. We are going to be concentrating on sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace or learning environment.
Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable while they are working or being educated and therefore you should report any sexual harassment to your boss, or the relevant authorities.
Sexual Harassment in the workplace and learning environment is immoral and illegal. Behaviors such as sexual advances, physical harassment, and requests for sexual favors all fall under the term sexual harassment. Even if an action isn’t directed to a specific person it can be deemed as sexual harassment.
For example if someone was making comments about the women in the office in general it could be classed as sexual harassment. Unfortunately offhand comments or bullying aren’t covered under sexual harassment laws, however they can still negatively affect the receiving party.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment knows no gender, race, or sexual preference boundaries. The harasser and their victim could be male, female, or non-gender binary. The most commonly heard cases are where the harasser is a boss or superior and whilst those are the most heinous because the victim feels like their career will be negatively impacted if they report the sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can come from anyone, a colleague, someone you manage, a supplier who visits the office occasionally, clients, even the postman. The following behaviors are all forms of sexual harassment:
- Sexual assault i.e. Physical actions of a sexual nature
- Explicitly or implicitly making a sexual relationship or favors a condition of continued employment or advancement.
- Verbal harassment such as jokes and comments of a sexual nature
- Unwelcome physical contact that is either meant as sexual or could be interpreted as sexual.
- Discussing sex life, kinks, fantasies, and sexual accomplishments in professional setting
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Talking about or requesting sexual favors
- Pressure to talk about sex or enter a sexual relationship
- Indecent exposure or touching oneself sexually
- Unwelcome explicit communication including text, photos, and videos on any communication medium.
What Are The Differences Between Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Assault?
In simple terms sexual misconduct is an umbrella term that covers anything that your workplace or school doesn’t allow but isn’t classed as sexual harassment or sexual assault. This means if your workplace doesn’t allow sexual relationships with clients or between members of staff any such relationship would be seen as sexual misconduct even if it was a consensual relationship.
Sexual harassment is defined as the unwelcome verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. While it is in violation of civil laws, sexual harassment is not seen as a criminal act so any cases of sexual harassment are dealt with by the workplace or school authority rather than the police.
Sexual assault on the other hand is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police, not just the HR department. This term covers unwanted touching or fondling of private parts, as well as the victim being forced to have sexual contact with the offender, whether touching or oral sex.
Rape, attempted rate, and penetration of any kind with either the offender’s body parts or another object are also classed as sexual assault.
Is It Sexual Harassment Only If It Happens At Work?
No, due to your primary relationship being a colleagues or supervisor and subordinate any sexual harassment in the office after work hours, conversations in the hallway, or even outside of work is still considered sexual harassment and should be reported to the relevant authority at work.
What Should I Do If I See Someone Being Sexually Harassed?
You don’t need to be aggressive or make a scene to help someone who is being sexually harassed, depending on your comfort level there are a few things you can do to help alleviate the immediate situation. If you are able to help the person being harassed slip away then that is a win and the person can choose what they want to do then in terms of reporting. The important thing is to keep your own safety in mind at all times and remember the mnemonic CARE.
Create a distraction:
Distract the harasser either by asking them a question about work or what they did last night or on the weekend to give the person being harassed a chance to slip away while you are chatting. Alternatively you could ask the person being harassed something and subtly move them away from the situation by asking them to look over something or walk with you to the kitchen while you chat. Remember your safety comes first so if the harasser seems like they might become violent don’t approach.
Ask the person you suspect is being harassed if they are being harassed. Offer them your support if they plan to report the harassment and sit in on any meetings with the harasser
Refer to an authority:
This is the safest way to intervene if you worry about your safety. Look for an authority figure such as another employee, a supervisor, or security guard to intervene for you. This also means there is another witness to the sexual harassment to back up the person being harassed if and when they report the harassment.
If you are worried about your safety and don’t want to step in by yourself, enlist the help of a friend, another colleague, or other bystander to stop the sexual harassment.
What Are Some Of The Effects Someone Will Feel After Being Sexually Harassed?
There are a range of mental, physical, and emotional effects someone will feel after being sexually harassed. We will list a few here:
- Feeling violated
- Shame and humiliation
- Panic Attacks
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Panic attacks and flashbacks
- Difficulty sleeping
- Disordered eating
Where Can I Learn More?
- Visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to learn about your rights to a safe workplace and sexual harassment laws.
- Visit the Youth At Work page on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website to learn about your rights if you are a minor.