Signs of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is an all-too-common type of discrimination with potentially serious consequences, yet it is not always easy to spot. Some signs of sexual harassment, such as unwanted touching, can be obvious. Other signs, including online stalking and unwanted flirting, can be more subtle. At Helping Survivors, we can help you recognize the signs of sexual harassment, understand your next steps, prevent further abuse, and move forward with your life.

Sexual harassment is an unfortunate but common issue for people of all genders and sexual orientations. However, it’s not always clear what constitutes this type of abuse. Spotting common sexual harassment signs can enable victims and their family members to recognize problems early on, report them, and escape uncomfortable or threatening situations.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

What Are the Signs of Sexual Harassment?

Verbal Signs of Sexual Harassment

Verbal harassment involves written or spoken words of a sexual nature. Perpetrators may continue to make increasingly more inappropriate comments over time. However, even subtle harassment can cause trauma for many victims. 

1. Comments About Physical Appearance

While a few polite comments about clothing or a new hairstyle might not constitute sexual harassment, personal comments about appearance, including body type, weight, or specific features, often indicate harassment. Harassment also occurs when the perpetrator continues to make those comments despite a request to stop. 

2. Inappropriate Sexual Questions and Comments

A common sexual harassment sign is a perpetrator who asks inappropriate questions about sexuality, sexual activities, or the victim’s personal life. Improper sexual questions include those about the victim’s marriage or relationship, as well as those that are directly sexual. 

3. Unwanted Flirting or Romantic Advances

If you ask someone to stop flirting and it continues, or someone makes extreme or unwanted advances, it is harassment. Unwanted advances could include large romantic gestures like expensive gifts, loud gestures of love or attachment, and constant flirting. 

4. Inappropriate Comments About Gender or Sexuality

Some perpetrators will make persistent comments based on gender or sexuality, such as negative remarks about females and their ability to handle certain activities, including stereotypically “male” activities like manual labor. They may also include references to sexuality or the victim’s relationships. 

5. Asking For or Demanding Sexual Favors

Some perpetrators will “jokingly” ask for sexual favors regularly, even after getting turned down or hearing that the victim has no interest. Others, especially those in authority, may request sexual favors in exchange for favors of their own or make promotions or special projects contingent on engaging in sexual activities. 

Nonverbal Signs of Sexual Harassment

While verbal is most common, nonverbal harassment is prevalent as well. Nonverbal harassment can be physical or visual in nature.

1. Leering

Inappropriate facial expressions can make it obvious what someone thinks even when they do not voice those thoughts. Leering and suggestive expressions and gestures, including things such as miming the grabbing of an attractive body part, flipping someone off, or otherwise making visual sexual advances, are examples of harassment.

2. Unwanted Touching

Unwanted touching in any circumstance constitutes harassment. Touching includes not only sexual contact, such as grabbing the breasts or genitals, but also unwanted hugs, lingering touches, or unnecessary touches anywhere on the body.

In many cases, physical contact the victim did not consent may be considered sexual assault. This can include forced sexual favors or encounters at work. 

3. Sharing Inappropriate Images or Materials

Some harassers deliberately share content they know will make others uncomfortable, including pornographic or explicit material. Leaving that material around without intentionally passing it to a specific individual also constitutes harassment. 

4. Digital Stalking

Social media makes it easier than ever to find people online. Virtual stalking, including heightened awareness of what you post on social media or excessive contact on such platforms, constitutes harassment. Digital stalking also includes repeated virtual contact.

Ways Victims React To Sexual Harassment

1. Avoiding the Perpetrator

2. Withdrawing

3. Looking Uncomfortable

4. Suffer Physical and Mental Afflictions

Where Does Sexual Harassment Most Commonly Occur?

Reporting Sexual Harassment