What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual Harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as “requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances or offensive remarks about a person’s gender or sex.” This also includes creating a hostile work environment to work in, such as posting sexual pictures, leering, or physical contact.
According to the EEOC, almost 12,000 reports of sexual harassment were filed in 2010. The good news is that this number marks a downward trend from 16,000 claims in 1997.
Sexual Harassment Comes in Two Primary Forms:
Quid Pro Quo - advancement, benefit, or perks offered in exchange for sexual favors; threat of consequences for withholding sexual favors.
An example of Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment is a supervisor offering a promotion to an employee in exchange for sex. Similarly a supervisor threatening to terminate an employee if the employee does not have sex with the supervisor is guilty of Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment. Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment is against the law whether or not physical harm is threatened.
Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment - sexual in nature and may be verbal, physical, or visual; the intended victim voices disagreement with the behavior. One severe incident can create a hostile environment, but more typically a series of events occurs.
Examples of Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment include situational events such as jokes or sexual posters, continued sexual language or advances, or derogatory terms. Quid Pro Quo is often a more serious offense, but Hostile Environment is more common.
Examples of Sexual Harassment:
The following situations can represent a sexual harassment incident in the office or at school if the behavior is unwelcome and the offender has been informed that the behavior is inappropriate.
- Making sexual comments about the body, appearance, or clothing in person or in writing
- Sharing sexual jokes, stories, or media
- Sexual advances or propositions
- Sexual gestures or touching (of others or self)
- Gossip/rumors regarding someone's sexual activities
- Making offensive comments about sexual identity
- Staring, whistling
Who Experiences Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment can be directed at an individual of any sex and committed by a person of any sex. Further, the target of the harassment does not have to be the reporting party in a sexual harassment situation.
While most sexual harassment is instigated by male employees to female employees, it is worth noting that approximately 16% of claims are reported by men. In addition, male sexual harassment may be under-reported.
Laws Against Sexual Harassment:
Sexual harassment is a serious offense, as it is a form of sexual discrimination, as described by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII states that no one may be treated differently due to their protected class status, including their sex. Further, many states have similar laws and protections in place that apply additional protections based upon gender or sexual orientation.
Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees and is valid on a federal, state, and local level.
Most employers have educational programs in place, which are generally run by Human Resources, in order to comply with the law and prevent sexual harassment in the office.
Addressing Sexual Harassment:
If you believe you are the victim of or have witnessed sexual harassment, it is important to report your concerns to a supervisor, Human Resources department, your local EEOC office, or school principal/counselor/chancellor.
When reporting sexual harassment, you have 180 days from the date of the incident to file a claim; federal employees have 45 to contact an EEOC Counselor.
Retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is also illegal. According to Sarbanes-Oxley, reporting parties are protected while making a report and engaging in the whistle-blowing process. Retaliation includes asking someone if they have made a claim, processing a demotion or termination related to the incident, treating a person differently because they reported, enacting a salary or hours reduction, or denying opportunities to the individual reporting and/or victimized.
Resources for Sexual Harassment:
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Hotline: 1-800-669-4000
ERA (Equal Rights Advocates) run a confidential, toll-free, multilingual Advice and Counseling line: 1-800-839-4372
American Association of University Women is an organization that works to break through barriers and create opportunities for females through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.
The Feminist Majority Foundation offers an informational page with sexual harassment hotlines by state, fact sheets, and information about harassment in school.
The Out & Equal Workplace Advocates focus on ending discrimination related to sexual orientation.
The Teen Victim Project has an informational page pertaining to sexual harassment of teens.
Equal Rights Advocates provides information to educate females on their rights.