Sexual harassment is a serious matter, with ramifications that affect every college campus. Some 62 percent of female students and 61 percent of male students experienced some form of sexual harassment, according to the AAUW Educational Foundation.
Sexual harassment is sometimes dismissed as simple flirtatious behavior that’s misunderstood, but it’s far from harmless. It’s dangerous, offensive, and it’s prohibited under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
So, what is sexual harassment? How does the law protect you, and what might it look like on your college campus? This guide covers the basics, with details on what you can do to prevent sexual harassment.
What is Sexual Harrassment?
Sexual harassment can take the form of inappropriate requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.
Types of Sexual Harrassment
Sexual harassment takes many forms. It might involve harmful words, unwanted physical contact, and other abusive communications and physical interactions. Gaining a better understanding of how sexual harassment is defined makes it easier to identify. Some forms of sexual harassment include:
- Verbal: This type of harassment can include insults or slurs. It can take the form of of unwelcome nicknames or titles, particularly where the offensive comments involve some reference to a person’s anatomy or sexual innuendo.
- Non-verbal: Examples of non-verbal harassment include suggestive gestures and looks. Non-verbal harassment can also take the form of shared images and written communications.
- Physical: This type of sexual harassment includes unwelcome touching. It can take the form of rubbing up against another person, blocking a person’s path, or hindering someone from completing their work. It can also involve force and coercive actions like a forced kiss.
Signs of Sexual Harassment
A person who has been harassed often feels uncomfortable or unsafe. They may experience emotional reactions such as anger or fear. They may be affected physically with symptoms including fatigue or stress. People who experience sexual harassment can also suffer depression and other serious mental health impacts.
Signs of sexual harassment are not always readily apparent to those who experience it or people who witness it. People are sometimes reluctant to report their experiences for fear of seeming unfriendly or unreasonable, and they may even doubt their own feelings or reactions. It’s important to remember that any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature can be considered harassment.
Where Sexual Harassment Can Take Place
Sexual harassment can take place anywhere at any time, so you should be aware. While you can’t always prevent sexual harassment, you can learn to recognize the signs so you can remove yourself from the situation and report it.
Statistics on Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment happens to many Americans. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, as many as 81% of women in the US and 43% of men say that they’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment and/or abuse.
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like on Campus?
On college campuses, sexual harassment can take place between students, fellow staff members, and in the interactions between professors and students. Even though many sexual harassment situations do not involve direct contact or assault, they can still leave affected individuals angry, embarrassed, and afraid.
Sexual harassment can take the form of “quid pro quo” situations, which could involve exchanging favors for a good grade. It can involve a hostile environment, where the student feels a sense of intimidation because of what a teacher, staff member, or another student says, does, or suggests.
Even if you feel like a sexual harassment incident is minor, trust your instincts. Comments about your appearance, put-downs, sex-based jokes, and other threatening or demeaning behavior are not funny, nor are they appropriate for a college campus. Sexual harassment can be something as simple as inappropriate hugging or touching, displaying inappropriate images, or even spreading rumors.
What Protection Does the Law Provide?
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law, which states that no person shall be excluded from or denied the benefits of an education program. Further, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers protections based on color, race, religion, sex, or national origin. Colleges and universities that receive federal funds under Title VII must offer protection to you from sexual harassment.
How to Prevent Sexual Harassment on Campus
It’s in the best interest of your college or university to create a safe and secure learning environment for you and your fellow students. Schools have rules, policies, and procedures in place to protect you, and it’s important for students to report sexual harassment to school officials.
Here are a few actions you can take to try to stop sexual harassment from happening:
- Speak out about harassment: The first step to preventing or stopping sexual harassment is telling the abuser to stop when it does happen. It’s important to be clear with the harasser that their behavior is offensive, why it’s offensive, and ask them to stop.
- Document harassment: Write down what happened and ask any witnesses to record the incident. If it continues to happen, document every instance with as much detail as possible while the event is still fresh in your memory.
- Report harassment. Schools are obligated to take action when sexual harassment occurs.
How to Report Sexual Harassment on Campus
The appropriate policies and procedures may differ for your college or university, but any educational institution that receives federal funding is subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and therefore must have policies in place to address sexual harassment.
Title IX offices typically receive reports via email, phone hotlines, online forms, and in-person visits. Student who wish to report sexual harassment anonymously can do so. Students also have the option to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
While the process may be different for your school, the school administration is legally required to take your report and follow up on your complaint. Depending on the severity and extent of your sexual harassment experience, you may need to file a police report as well. You may also want to consult with an attorney to determine the steps that will be best in your situation.
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like at Work?
Examples of sexual harassment at work include requests for favors in exchange for raises or promotions. It could also include interactions with peers. It can also occur at work outings. Regardless of setting, any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature can be considered sexual harassment.
What to Do if You Feel You’ve Been Sexually Harassed
When you have experienced sexual harassment at work, you should follow the same basic steps as you would as a student on campus:
- Tell the harasser to stop.
Document what happened and ask witnesses to document what they saw or heard.
- If the behavior continues to take place, document every instance, including emails, direct contacts, or any other interaction that is unwelcome and harassing.
- Report the incident.
How to Report Sexual Harassment at Work
When you’re experiencing sexual harassment at work, you should meet with your company’s human resources manager.
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like in the Military?
The types of instances that involve sexual harassment in the military can look very similar to what you’d experience at any other workplace. However, the formal structure of the military includes procedures for reporting inappropriate behavior.
Air Force Equal Opportunity. Air Force policies and sexual harassment hotline.
MyNavy HR, Resolving an Issue. Navy processes for reporting sexual harassment.
The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program. This office handles the Army’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and assault.
United States Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Learn about military reporting options.
Why Should You Act When You Experience Sexual Harassment?
You have the right to expect a safe environment that’s free of offensive language, behavior, and innuendo. It’s important to remember that you are not to blame for the wrongful behavior of others.
Sexual harassment is harmful and it can lead to acts of sexual violence. You deserve to feel safe, and reporting sexual harassment makes you and others safer.
Family, friends, and fellow students can provide moral support. You may also find that you need counseling services. Never be afraid to ask for help.