What is Sexual Harassment?

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  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. That conduct can be physical or verbal. It can take place in any setting — the workplace, school, or elsewhere. The harasser can be of either gender as can be the victim. Furthermore, the harasser and victim do not have to be of the opposite sex in relation to each other.

A relatively new concept, sexual harassment began to gain attention sometime in the 70s and 80s. It was originally talked about in reference to male harassment towards women in the workplace. In the US, sexual harassment in the workplace, or any public accommodation, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is a form of sex discrimination.

The definition of sexual harassment has greatly expanded overtime. It includes what might be considered minor, though still offensive, forms of behavior directed at others, or even behaviors without specific direction. Further, harassment doesn’t always take place in a working relationship. It can also occur within the teacher-student relationship, which is often called the forgotten secret at the college level. Sexual harassment may include the following:

  • Unwelcome comments about a person’s physical characteristics, or sexual behavior.
  • Inappropriate sexually charged language when talking to co-workers, other students, or employees (such as telling an obscene joke).
  • Discussing or speculating on the sexual orientation of another person or asking that person directly about their sexual habits, behavior or orientation.
  • Unwelcome solicitations for dates or intercourse.
  • Any form of physical contact that makes another person uncomfortable.
  • Displaying materials of a sexual nature, such as inappropriate pictures, pornography, etc.
  • Punitive behaviors designed to punish a worker who finds any approach of a sexual nature unwelcome.

The defining characteristic of sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual conduct. The recipient isn't the only one that can find the conduct unwelcome. Viewing or hearing the inappropriate conduct even though it was not directed at you could constitute sexual harassment.

Most people who study sexual harassment suggest that often, the best way of stopping it, is to directly ask the person to stop. Making the person aware that their behavior is unwelcome and unappreciated is often an important first step. But this approach is not always feasible. When this is the case, the issue should be taken to a higher-level employee or a person in authority. When the harasser is the person in authority, one should go another level higher. In the US, this often means filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Sometimes the sexual conduct is so violent or illegal in nature that it is important to report it directly to the police. Sexual battery, rape and stalking are all matters not only to be addressed by the authority figures in places where they occur but also by the police. Under these circumstances, it may be best to report such criminal behaviors to police officers first, especially if you fear for your personal safety.

Not only employers, but also schools and even volunteer organizations are moving to define and protect against sexual harassment. This is an important step, since such harassment remains a tremendous problem in our society.

Discuss this Article

Post 9

I have had two cases of sexual harassment in my workplace, first with manager, then with a workmate.

Post 6

Sexual harassment is one popular issue where only few are fully aware of its elements. Organizations/companies should take this seriously by acting on it. One effective way I believe is through information dissemination which can be done by conducting an ethics training within their organization to protect both their people and organization.

Post 4

I work with someone whose comments make me uncomfortable. A friend says it's sexual harassment, but I'm not sure. I don't want to overreact.

He turns every conversation into something sexual.

Several times a day, he talks to me about masturbation.

He starts conversations in the workplace like "how many words can you think of for breasts?"

He stares at my legs and breasts, and talks about being "distracted" when I'm around.

I'm new to the job and the environment, and I'm not sure what to do.

Post 3

Olittlewood: Thanks for your feedback. I am a parent with kids in this school district who are not quite high school age. Unfortunately, the response from the school administration & school board has been to support the students' freedom of expression. Many agree that the article (published in an issue which did not put forth any counter viewpoint) is indeed disgusting, but that the students have a right to publish whatever they want. This is why I'm looking into whether the environment created by this sort of expression creates a "hostile work/school environment". I am also not a lawyer, but would welcome any other possible legal angles that might be pursued to try to put a stop to this sort of thing. Thanks again for your perspective.

Post 2


i'm not a lawyer, but i'm a parent and i feel a pretty decent judge of what is appropriate without being too overly protective. i believe the content isn't necessarily inappropriate for a high school newspaper. i don't have a problem with the topic of porn being addressed in that setting, as long as they provide information that discusses the detrimental effects of viewing and making porn to de-glamorize it for these kids. i personally believe that this is an irresponsible article because 1. it takes a porn is huge, everyone is doing it, so get over it attitude. 2. it has no negative side to the argument 3. the overall tone is so blatantly pro-porn it's disgusting.

the final paragraph is so utterly disgusting, and you don't have to be an adult to get the double entendre this guy uses. "16 years of hands on research"? what is, he, 30?

if you are a student, i suggest you show your parents this immediately. if you are a parent, i suggest you contact your school's principal, district superintendent, and even the local media. i fully support free speech, but we as adults have a responsibility to make sure that what our children are exposed in school is not harmful. and a 16 year old who sounds like he's obsessed with porn isn't the best judge of what that is.

Post 1

The following text appeared in an article in our High School's student newspaper, which operates as an "open forum", which purportedly allows it to publish virtually anything at all. I am concerned that the environment created by articles such as the following essentially create a "hostile work environment" for many students. Can anyone clarify whether or not this might be the case legally? Thank you for any perspective and help you can provide.

A deeper look at porn

Sex sells. It always has. But gone are the days of searching for your dad's Playboy stash, or finding National Geographic issues with topless tribal women. Now the Internet is here ... and it's here to stay.

As the

industry continues to explode, the Internet is pushing aside all other venues and is working its way to becoming the largest pornography distribution method available. Last year alone, sales and rentals of pornographic videos have decreased by 15 percent, largely because of videos and photos on the Internet. This material is mostly created by amateurs (rookies at porn), and is much cheaper than the videos you can rent or buy at a store. By contrast, sales of online videos grew 14 percent last year.

Some critics of the porn industry say that it gives pedophiles a new way to stalk and "get jiggy" with children. But the porn industry is just doing what any other company that wants to expand would do. Growing along with the new technology, the porn industry has been a pioneer in new technology over the past 10 years. This includes anything from video-streaming and fee-based subscriptions to pop-up ads and electronic billing. These were all started by innovative entrepreneurs looking to increase their profit online. Video-streaming and online subscriptions are now staples at some

Fortune 500 companies.

Critics maintain that the Internet makes it easier

for children to access porn. But there are programs

available to block children from viewing sites like this. The parents should be to blame for this problem; children shouldn't be on the Internet without supervision anyway. Adults should stop whining about their problems to other people, and watch their children a little more.

The rise of the Internet is in turn forcing several DVD-dependent companies out of business. Websites that previously only sold DVDs, are now leaving the shriveling market and beginning to sell video downloads. Some companies now even let visitors download videos for free. Websites such as [website address removed] and [website address removed] are allowing users to upload their own naughty videos and pictures for the world to view.

[website address removed] is one of the largest adult sites, generating 10 to 15 million hits a day. This makes it one of the 200 most-popular sites on the Web, according to Alexa, which tracks Internet traffic.

Like any growing industry, the rise of Internet porn just keeps on creating more jobs. Young performers are now using the Internet for more exposure. Some film short clips from their home and post them on the Internet for "exposure."

The Internet is proving itself as a new outlet for porn enthusiasts. Consumers no longer have to leave their homes to find the porn they are searching for. They can now surf the web in privacy, without any hassle or embarrassment that might go along with buying or renting at a store.

Like their audience, the porn industry is just waiting to explode. Internet porn hit an all time high in 2006 when its sales reached $2.8 billion. That same year, video sales reached a total of $3.6 billion.

After 16 hard years of hands-on research, personal experience has stimulated me to the climatic conclusion that Internet pornography is a good thing for not only the industry, but also society itself. By Tim Chandler

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