What Is Sexual
Harassment?

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Sexual harassment is a form of abuse

Sexual harassment is a form of abuse prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It may occur in a variety of circumstances, and victims are not limited to only women—men may be victims of sexual harassment as well.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is quite common. Statistics show that more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime.

In another recent study, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault. The study also found that:

  • Verbal sexual harassment was the most common form, reported by 77% of women and 34% of men.
  • Physically aggressive forms of sexual harassment were reported by 62% of women and 26% of men.
  • Cyber sexual harassment was reported by 41% of women and 22% of men.
  • Sexual assault was reported by 27% of women and 7% of men.

Statistics clearly indicate that sexual harassment is a major issue in today’s society. However, by taking action when it occurs, we can help support victims and prohibit perpetrators from abusing others.

What does
sexual harassment look like?

Sexual harassment is unwanted and non-consensual sexual behavior. It may be happening to you or someone else. Common examples of sexual harassment include:

There are many types of actions, either verbal or non-verbal, that may constitute sexual harassment. It may take on many different forms, and one incident can include one or more types. Other common forms of sexual harassment include:

What's the difference between
sexual harassment and sexual assault?

While both sexual harassment and sexual assault have some features in common, there are also differences. As defined by the CDC, sexual harassment occurs through the use of sexual comments, spreading sexual rumors, or creating a sexually hostile climate.

In contrast, sexual assault involves non-consensual sexual activity or contact. It may happen through the use of physical force or threats of force, or by giving the victim drugs or alcohol as part of the assault.

Sexual harassment is often used to refer to verbal or non-verbal sexual innuendo or actions that occur in the workplace; though in reality, sexual harassment can occur in any environment. In contrast, sexual assault involves actual sexual activity or contact that occurs without consent.

Sexual harassment generally violates civil laws but is not a criminal act in many cases. However, sexual assault usually refers to acts that are criminal in nature. Some forms of sexual assault include attempted rape or forcing someone to perform sexual acts.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT VICTIMS

Who can be a victim of sexual harassment?

Anyone may be a victim of sexual harassment. More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. It impacts nearly every community and affects people of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages.

The perpetrator of sexual violence is often someone the victim knows, such as a friend, intimate partner, coworker, neighbor, or family member. It may occur in person or online, such as by posting or sharing pictures of someone without their consent.

43%

percentage of the women say they’ve been been sexually harassed at work.

12%

percentage of men say they’ve been sexually harassed at work.

Where does sexual
harassment happen?

Sexual harassment can occur anywhere. Common places where sexual harassment may occur include:

Workplace

Schools or universities

Shopping centers

Neighborhood parks or
streets

Online via social media

Through text messages

Restaurants

There are many different scenarios that may lead to sexual harassment. Due to the frequency of lawsuits regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, many companies ban sexual relationships between coworkers, even if such relationships are consensual.

Negative effects of sexual
harassment on victims

Experiencing sexual harassment may lead some survivors to face emotional, physical, or mental health concerns.

Emotional Effects

Emotional effects associated with sexual harassment may include:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Humiliation
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Betrayal
  • Violation
  • Powerlessness and loss of control

Although sexual harassment may not always leave physical marks, the emotional consequences may be severe, especially if harassment occurs over a prolonged period of time.

Mental Health Effects

If the sexual harassment occurs often enough, it may result in mental health conditions such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • PTSD
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of motivation
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation

If a mental health condition develops as the result of sexual harassment, the victim may need therapy or medication.

Physical Effects

Alongside emotional and mental health conditions, the physical effects of sexual harassment may include:

  • Increased stress levels
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating disturbances

The physical effects of sexual harassment may require therapy or medication, or they may resolve on their own over time.

What should I do if I experience
sexual harassment?

There are a variety of things you can do if you experience sexual harassment. If you feel you are a victim of sexual harassment, it may be helpful to inform the harasser directly that you feel uncomfortable and would prefer for the conduct to stop.

There is a possibility that they did not intend to offend or disturb you, and they may be genuinely apologetic. However, if the harassment is continuous, you should take additional action.

You can begin by documenting the occurrences. Keep copies of emails, texts, or social media posts. You should also tell a trusted friend or family member of the situation. They may be able to offer support and advice on how to handle the problem.

If you want to report harassment occurring at the workplace, you should think of possible solutions. You may want to move to another department, or you may be better off moving to another company—especially if you believe the harassment may be damaging your health or causing further problems at work.

You should continue to tell the harasser to stop if activities continue. Be clear that the behavior is making you uncomfortable. Research shows that confrontation sometimes puts a stop to the harassment.

You can also connect with others who may have been mistreated or harassed. When several people acknowledge a pattern of behavior by the harasser, it’s harder to dismiss.

Workplaces and universities often have hotlines to report sexual harassment. You can use these to file a report. You may also choose to tell a parent, a coach, or the police. If the harassment is serious enough, you may seek the assistance of a legal advisor.

LEARN MORE

What do I do when I see
sexual harassment?

If you see sexual harassment taking place, you may attempt to intervene through a method referred to as bystander intervention. This intervention involves you stepping in to help if you see someone who may be in danger or at risk for sexual assault.

You can offer to help in a way that is appropriate to the situation. If you choose to help, you may be able to give the person a way to leave the situation. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a nonprofit dedicated to combatting abuse, has released recommended intervention strategies that can help the victim while also keeping you safe.

Create a Distraction

Do whatever you can to interrupt the harassment or distract those who are involved in the harassment. However, make sure that you aren’t putting yourself in danger. If someone seems like they may become violent, don’t draw their attention.

Ask Directly

If the harassment is happening at work or school, offer to accompany the victim any time they need to meet with the harasser.

Refer to an Authority

The safest way to intervene may be to bring in an authority figure. Oftentimes, those who have authority will be willing to step in if needed.

Enlist Others

It can be hard to step in alone, especially if you are worried for your own safety. If you can, ask for the help of someone nearby or from a friend.

What do I do when I see
sexual harassment?

contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to talk to a trained professional for help.