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What Is Online Sexual Harassment?

Online sexual harassment may occur between two people who know each other.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 April 2014
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Online sexual harassment is a form of sexual harassment that primarily occurs over the Internet, typically through e-mail, an Internet forum, or online messaging programs. This type of harassment can occur anonymously, often by someone who may not know the victim but is instead simply harassing people randomly. It can also be targeted at a particular victim by someone the victim does not know, which can occur when the victim is a celebrity or other famous individual. Online sexual harassment can also take place between two people who both know each other, in which case the assailant chooses the Internet as a medium for harassment rather than direct contact.

Sexual harassment of any kind, including online sexual harassment, typically consists of words, images, and actions that are sexually explicit or provocative and make the receiver feel threatened or strongly distressed. While physical actions may not be possible with online sexual harassment, there is still a great deal of potential for harassment through words and images that can be sent through the Internet. The methods for delivering such harassment can vary a great deal, but may include the use of e-mail, online forums and groups, instant messaging services, online computer and video games, and comments on blogs.

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While other forms of sexual harassment often involve direct contact between the victim and the perpetrator of the harassment, online sexual harassment can be done in relative anonymity. The Internet provides a number of opportunities for harassment in which the assailant may not actually know the victim. This can be done at random, often by spamming e-mail and instant messenger addresses, or may be directed at a particular target the assailant does not actually know.

Online sexual harassment can also occur between two people who know each other, in which case the messages sent can be more personal in nature. In any type of online sexual harassment, the harassment typically involves unwelcome and unsolicited words and images that make the victim feel threatened or distressed. Anyone receiving such messages should request the sender stop further communication immediately and indicate that any future messages are unwanted and will be considered harassment. A copy of this notification should be kept by the victim, as evidence in case of future harassment.

If this type of notification does not end the online sexual harassment, then an official complaint should be made. This can be made to managers of a workplace or teachers at a school, if appropriate, or sent to administrators of a website or messaging service the assailant is using for harassment. If threats of violence or assault are made through such messages, then law enforcement should be notified and any messages received should be kept as evidence of the harassment.

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