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What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, conduct of a sexual nature, and requests for sexual favors. It must explicitly or implicitly affect a person's employment, unreasonably interfere with work or school performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work or school environment.
Sexual harassment can be verbal (e.g., sexually degrading jokes or sending unwanted sexually harassing e-mails and text messages); physical (e.g., standing in someone's way or too close in order to sexually intimidate them); or non-verbal (e.g., displaying sexually explicit pictures or making sexual gestures). It can include offering academic benefits or employment advancement in exchange for sexual favors, or making threats after a negative response to sexual advances.
Sexual harassment happens when one person uses sexual words, gestures, looks, or touches that may make another person feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. It means that someone is treated differently because of his or her gender. It may be repeated or it may be very offensive on a one-time basis. It is usually intentional, but sometimes people don't know that they are sexually harassing another person. Harassment is NEVER the fault of the victim. Some people harass others when they feel badly about themselves or want to have power and control over others. Even if the person experiencing the behavior does not appear to be upset, it is sexual harassment if it makes others feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Ignoring sexual harassment will not make it stop. In some cases, ignoring it will only make it worse because the harasser may think that the behavior is acceptable.
Examples of Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment includes such unwelcome behaviors as:
- Touching or brushing against a person
- Unwanted sexual contact
- Patting, hugging, kissing
- Bumping into someone on purpose
- Blocking a person's path or hindering a person's movements
- Standing closer than appropriate or necessary
- Sexually explicit or derogatory photos, drawings, magazines, posters, or novelties
- Making sexually suggestive gestures
- Staring at someone's body or looking a person up and down
- Maintaining unwanted flirtatious eye contact
- Leering, winking, throwing kisses or licking lips
- Sexually oriented letters or notes
- Touching or rubbing oneself sexually in view of another person
- Exposing oneself
- Graffiti about a person's sexuality
- Threats or sexual bribery
- Sexually offensive jokes or comments
- Pressuring someone for a date or sexual relations
- Whistles or rude noises
- Spreading sexual rumors
- Comments about a person's body
- Lewd or suggestive remarks
- Asking about sexual experiences, fantasies or preferences
- Conversation with sexual overtones
- Telephone calls of a sexual nature
- Calling people sexually oriented names such as hunk, doll, babe or honey
- Name calling, such as "bitch", "whore" or "slut"
Sexual harassment can also include unwelcomed behaviors such as someone:
- Constantly inviting you for drinks, dinners, dates.
- Invading your personal space while working together.
- Asking questions about your personal and/or sexual life.
- Sending drawings, graffiti, pictures, cartoons and/or cards which are sexually offensive to you.
- Exerting subtle pressure to coerce you into sexual interactions.
- Kissing you without your consent at social or business events.
- Creating a hostile environment toward women or men, i.e., jokes, comments, cartoons, pictures of a sexual nature posted in your school or workplace.
Feelings Caused By Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can cause you to feel:
- Powerless, helpless, guilt and anger.
- Self-blame, depression, lowered self-esteem.
- Isolation - because family, friends and co-workers don't understand and/or minimize the victimization; rejection by peers.
- Concern about one's mental and physical well-being.
At school, sexual harassment can cause:
- Inability to concentrate.
- Lower grades.
- Withdrawal from courses.
- Changing majors.
- Dropping out of school.
In the workplace sexual harassment can cause:
- Decreased productivity.
- Denial of advancement and/or benefits.
- Retaliation by harasser.
- Loss of income or job.
Sexual Harassment Constitutes a Civil Rights Violation
Under West Virginia law (§5-11. Legislative Rule Title 77), sexual harassment is not necessarily confined to unwanted sexual conduct. Hostile or physically aggressive behavior may also constitute sexual harassment, if it is based on gender.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act categorizes sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. It applies only in the following settings:
- Government offices (local, state and federal);
- Businesses with 15 or more employees;
- Employment agencies; and
- Labor organizations.
WV Code §5-11. Legislative Rule Title 77. This state law offers protection from sexual harassment only in the following work settings:
- Government offices (state and any political subdivision of the state); and
- Businesses with 12 or more employees for more than 20 calendar weeks in the year in which the act took place (excluding private clubs).
Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. This amendment prohibits sexual harassment only in the following settings:
U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
A hostile environment has been created if a reasonable person in the victim's situation would find the behavior offensive, and the sex of the victim is a relevant variable in making this judgment. The intent of the perpetrator is not a factor in determining whether or not harassment has occurred. The impact of the behavior is the critical factor.
A person no longer has to demonstrate that he or she was harmed by the harassment, only that the perpetrator created a hostile environment or committed quid pro quo offenses. Institutions and organizations can be held legally responsible for sexual harassment if they knew, or should have known, that it was occurring and did not take all reasonable measures to remedy and prevent it. Even if the organization did not know (or should not have known) about the harassment, it is liable for damages if the harasser is a supervisor.
Cases often cited in sexual harassment suits include Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986); Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75 (1998); Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998); Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998); and Burlington Northern & Sante Fe Railway v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006).
Forms of Sexual Harassment
There are Two Forms of Sexual Harassment:
Quid Pro Quo ("This For That"): Employment or educational decisions that are made on the condition that a person accept unwelcome sexual behavior. A quid pro quo harassment behavior is chargeable even if it happens only once.
Hostile Environment: Pervasive (persistent or all encompassing) sex-related verbal or physical conduct that is unwelcome or offensive, and has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work or school performance. In order for this conduct to be considered sexual harassment, the hostile environment must either be extreme or "sustained and non-trivial."
What to Do If You Are Harassed
If you feel uncomfortable and/or think that someone's behavior is inappropriate, trust your own judgment.
- 1. Inform the harasser(s) directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Often the harassing is done to assert power and induce fear. However, it is not always safe for a victim to confront the harasser, for reasons of physical safety, concerns for losing their job or of retaliation in a school setting. Victims do not have to inform their harassers that their behavior is unwelcome in order to file a complaint of sexual harassment, if doing so may jeopardize their physical safety, emotional well-being or work/school success.
- 2. Document the harassing behavior. Write down specifically what was done or said and if there were other witnesses. In addition to documenting incidences of sexual harassment, also keep notes about negative actions that result from the harassment (e.g., a demotion) and work/school performance (e.g., evaluations that attest to the quality of your work). Keep a copy of any written communication sent to/from the harasser. Tell someone in authority about the harassment.
- 3. Talk to family members, friends and/or co-workers whom you believe you can trust and whom will be supportive. Ask for help, support and guidance. Don't remain silent.
- 4. Become familiar with the sexual harassment policies and grievance/complaint procedures in your school and/or workplace and resources, such as the West Virginia Human Rights Commission or the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
- 5. Formally report the harassment and file a complaint if necessary (see below).
- 6. Take legal action. When no other recourse exists, you may choose to file a lawsuit under federal law Title IX.
Where victims file a complaint depends on where the harassment occurred:
- 1. West Virginia Human Rights Commission (for qualifying workplaces and schools): 304-558-2616 or 1-888-676-5546, www.wvf.state.wv.us/wvhrc.
- 2. State of West Virginia Governor's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (for state employees): 304-558-0400, http://www.eeo.wv.gov.
- 3. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (for qualifying workplaces): 1-800-669-4000 or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY), www.eeoc.gov.
- 4. Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education (for schools and colleges that receive federal financial assistance): 1-800-872-5327 or 1-800-437-0833, http://www.ed.gov/ocr.
How Often Does Sexual Harassment Occur?
- Nearly 2/3 of college students experience sexual harassment at some point during college (Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus, 2006).
- 4 out of 5 students (81%) have experienced some form of sexual harassment during their school lives (Hostile Hallways, 2001).
- Based on AAUW 2010-2011 survey of students in grades 7-12:
- About half (48 percent) the students experienced some form of sexual harassment at school during the 2010–11 school year. Nearly half the students (44 percent) encountered sexual harassment in person, and 30 percent encountered sexual harassment through texting, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means.
- Unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, and gestures were the most common type of sexual harassment; one-third of students (33 percent) encountered them at least once in school year 2010–11.
- Girls were more likely than boys to experience sexual harassment (56 percent versus 40 percent).
- In Fiscal Year 2009, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 12,696 charges of sexual harassment. 16% of those charges were filed by males. EEOC resolved 11,948 sexual harassment charges in FY 2009 and recovered $51.5 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation) (EEOC Sexual Harassment Statistics FY 2009).
- According to a recent study (2009) by sociologists at the University of Minnesota, women in supervisory positions are the most likely targets of sexual harassment. Women supervisors were 137% more likely to be harassed than females in non-supervisory positions (American Sociological Association, 2009).
- In an environment where obscenities are common, women are 3 times more likely to be sexually harassed than in an environment where such talk is not tolerated. In environments where sexual joking is common, women are 3 to 7 times more likely to be sexually harassed (Raver et al 2002).
Facts about sexual harassment, Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-sex.html
Hill, Catherine and Kearl, Holly (2011) Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. Washington, DC: AAUW.
Hill, Catherine and Silva, Elena. Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus. American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 2005. Retrieved April, 2011 from: www.aauw.org.
Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing and Sexual Harassment in School. American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 2001. Retrieved April, 2011 from: www.aauw.org.
Retrieved April, 2011 from http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/SHworkplace.html
Original Source: American Sociological Association (2009, August 13). Female Supervisors More Susceptible To Workplace Sexual Harassment.
Retrieved April, 2011 from http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/SHworkplace.html
Original Sources: Sexual Harassment: Your Guide to Legal Action. Boland, Mary L. (2002) Sphinx Publishing; Sexual harassment: bad for victims, bad for business. Queens University press release for study by Raver, Jana L. and Gelfand, Michele J., published in Academy of Management Journal.
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