We hear about sexual harassment cases almost daily, and many people see it in action in their own towns and neighborhoods. Even though it’s common, people might miss it not because they’re purposely ignoring it, but because they aren’t aware it’s actually sexual harassment.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment includes a wide variety of sexually inappropriate actions (both verbal and physical) toward another person. Sexual harassment is also defined as unwanted sexual acts in a workplace or educational environment.
In fact, it’s illegal (www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm) to sexually harass someone in the workplace or at school. But whether or not the harassment occurs in a professional setting, it’s wrong.
Sexual harassment can happen anywhere with anyone — over the phone, in person or through texting. And its impacts can last years, and in some cases, a lifetime.
Here are nine guidelines to know if you’ve experienced sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes:
1. Making sexual jokes
The person making the joke might find it funny, but it’s likely no one else does. If someone says a joke that crosses the line, speak up. Those around you probably feel the same way.
2. Spreading sexual rumors
Spreading rumors about someone’s sexual orientation, private sex life or anything else sexual is considered harassment. If you suspect someone is spreading rumors about you, address the individual. Let him or her know how their actions are affecting you, and reach out to a professional if necessary.
3. Ridiculing your looks
Any unwanted sexual comment is sexual harassment. This includes people making fun of you, whether they’re saying you’re unattractive or saying you don’t look like your gender.
These degrading comments tear others down, and rude comments replay in a person’s head over and over until he or she starts to wonder if it’s true. Don’t believe nasty things others say about you. If someone is verbally harassing you, reach out to someone you trust for support.
This is a tough one because many people see catcalling as innocent, but they can be extremely hurtful. A lot of women are fed up with being whistled at and verbally assaulted on public streets. Some men think their comments are just flattery, but it couldn’t be further from that.
Catcalling is disrespectful and degrading, and a man who honestly thinks a woman is beautiful will find a kind way to strike up a conversation instead of shouting or whistling.
5. Making offensive comments about your gender
It’s illegal to harass someone in the workplace by making fun of their gender, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm). For example, the EEOC says making fun of women to a female co-worker is sexual harassment. Even if the comment is not directed at you or any specific individual, it is considered sexual harassment to make offensive comments about your gender.
6. Hugging or touching even after you’ve said no
Any unwanted sexual contact is considered sexual harassment. An innocent hug probably isn’t something to be concerned about. But if you mention you don’t want to be hugged, that should be the only warning the other person needs.
Don’t allow someone to get away with the excuse that he or she is just being friendly. Inappropriate or unwanted touching of any kind is unacceptable.
7. Bullying based on sexual orientation
Bullying is never OK. And bullying someone based on their sexual orientation isn’t just bullying — it’s also sexual harassment. If you are being bullied based on your sexual orientation, speak up. You don’t have to face this alone. And if you see someone being bullied, reach out. It’s amazing how impactful even one person’s support is.
8. Demanding sexual favors for benefits
This is commonly known as something that could happen in the workplace (www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm).
Asking for sexual favors in exchange for any benefit (like a raise) or to avoid punishment (like employee termination) is considered sexual harassment.
9. Creating a hostile environment
Sexual harassment (www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm) includes unwelcome sexual advances, whether verbal or physical. While one offensive comment or tease isn’t considered illegal, frequent sexual harassment that creates a hostile workplace environment is. The harasser doesn’t have to be your superior or professor; it can be a co-worker, classmate or customer.
Outside of the workplace
Remember, sexual harassment isn’t limited to just professional settings. For both in and out of the workplace, individuals can speak to a lawyer or someone they trust to figure out what steps to take next for their safety and well-being.
If you’re wondering whether or not you’re being sexually harassed, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Was the act or verbal remark wanted?
2. Was the act or verbal remark sexual?
3. Do I feel safe?
You’re being sexually harassed if the act or remark was unwanted, sexual and creates an unsafe environment. But you don’t have to suffer alone. Seek help from friends, family or a professional for support and advice.
Some people might try to tell you to shrug it off or that it’s not a big deal. Don’t fall into that trap. Your well-being is a big deal, and the people who truly love and care for you will do everything they can to help.