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Sexual harassment

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A recreation of a man making an unwelcome sexual advance on a woman by putting his hand on her thigh

Sexual harassment is a type of harassment involving the use of explicit or implicit sexual overtones, including the unwelcome and inappropriate promises of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment can be physical and/or a demand or request for sexual favors, making sexually colored remarks, showing pornography, and any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.[1] Sexual harassment includes a range of actions from verbal transgressions to sexual abuse or assault.[2] Harassment can occur in many different social settings such as the workplace, the home, school, or religious institutions. Harassers or victims can be of any gender.[3]

In modern legal contexts, sexual harassment is illegal. Laws surrounding sexual harassment generally do not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or minor isolated incidents—that is due to the fact that they do not impose a "general civility code".[4] In the workplace, harassment may be considered illegal when it is frequent or severe, thereby creating a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim's demotion, firing or quitting). The legal and social understanding of sexual harassment, however, varies by culture.

Sexual harassment by an employer is a form of illegal employment discrimination. For many businesses or organizations, preventing sexual harassment and defending employees from sexual harassment charges have become key goals of legal decision-making.

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Etymology and history

The modern legal understanding of sexual harassment was first developed in the 1970s, although related concepts have existed in many cultures.

The term "sexual harassment"

Legal activist Catharine MacKinnon is generally credited with creating the laws surrounding sexual harassment in the United States with her 1979 book entitled Sexual Harassment of Working Women.[5] She used the term that appeared in a 1973 report about discrimination called "Saturn's Rings" by Mary Rowe, Ph.D.[6] At the time, Rowe was the Special Assistant to the President and Chancellor for Women and Work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[7] Due to her efforts at MIT, the university was one of the first large organizations in the U.S. to develop specific policies and procedures aimed at stopping sexual harassment.

Rowe says that harassment of women in the workplace was being discussed in women's groups in Massachusetts in the early 1970s. At Cornell University, instructor Lin Farley discovered that women in a discussion group repeatedly described being fired or quitting a job because they were harassed and intimidated by men.[8] She and colleagues used the term "sexual harassment" to describe the problem and generate interest in a "Speak Out" in May 1975. She later described sexual harassment at length in 1975 testimony before the New York City Human Rights Commission.[9][10] In the book In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (1999), journalist Susan Brownmiller says the women at Cornell became public activists after being asked for help by Carmita Dickerson Wood, a 44-year-old single mother who was being harassed by a faculty member at Cornell's Department of Nuclear Physics.[11][12][13] Farley wrote a book, Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job, published by McGraw-Hill in 1978 and in a paperback version by Warner Books in 1980.[8]

These activists, Lin Farley, Susan Meyer, and Karen Sauvigne, went on to form Working Women United, which, along with the Alliance Against Sexual Coercion (founded in 1976 by Freada Klein, Lynn Wehrli, and Elizabeth Cohn-Stuntz), was among the pioneer organizations to bring sexual harassment to public attention in the late 1970s. One of the first legal formulations of the concept of sexual harassment as consistent with sex discrimination and therefore prohibited behavior under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 appeared in the 1979 seminal book by Catharine MacKinnon[5] entitled "Sexual Harassment of Working Women".[14]

Key cases

Sexual harassment first became codified in U.S. law as the result of a series of sexual harassment cases in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the early women pursuing these cases were African American, often former civil rights activists who applied principles of civil rights to sex discrimination.[15]

Williams v. Saxbe (1976) and Paulette L. Barnes, Appellant, v. Douglas M. Costle, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (1977) determined it was sex discrimination to fire someone for refusing a supervisor's advances.[15][16] Around the same time, Bundy v. Jackson (1981) was the first federal appeals court case to hold that workplace sexual harassment was employment discrimination.[17] Five years later the Supreme Court agreed with this holding in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson. Another pioneering legal case was Alexander v. Yale (1980), which established that the sexual harassment of female students could be considered sex discrimination under Title IX, and was thus illegal. The first class-action lawsuit, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., was filed in 1988 (concluding nine years later).


Sexual harassment may occur in a variety of circumstances and in places as varied as factories, schools, colleges, the theater, and the music business.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] Often, the perpetrator has or is about to have power or authority over the victim (owing to differences in social, political, educational or employment relationships as well as in age). Harassment relationships are specified in many ways:

  • The perpetrator can be anyone, such as a client, a co-worker, a parent or legal guardian, relative, a teacher or professor, a student, a friend, or a stranger.
  • Harassment can occur in varying locations, in schools,[25] colleges, workplaces, in public, and in other places.
  • Harassment can occur whether or not there are witnesses to it.
  • The perpetrator may be completely unaware that their behavior is offensive or constitutes sexual harassment. The perpetrator may be completely unaware that their actions could be unlawful.[3]
  • Incidents of harassment can take place in situations in which the targeted person may not be aware of or understand what is happening.
  • An incident may be a one-time occurrence.
  • Adverse effects on harassed persons include stress, social withdrawal, sleep disorders, eating difficulties, and other impairments of health.
  • The victim and perpetrator can be any gender.
  • The incident may arise from misunderstanding by the perpetrator and/or the victim. These misunderstandings can be reasonable or unreasonable.

With the advent of the internet, social interactions, including sexual harassment, increasingly occur online, for example in video games or in chat rooms.

According to the 2014 PEW research statistics on online harassment, 25% of women and 13% of men between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment while online.[26]

In the workplace in the United States

The United States' Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ... when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment".[27] "The challenged conduct must be unwelcome in the sense that the employee did not solicit or incite it, and in the sense that the employee regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive."[28] "Particularly when the alleged harasser may have some reason (e.g., prior consensual relationship) to believe that the advances will be welcomed, it is important for the victim to communicate that the conduct is unwelcome."[28]

Throughout the United States workplace, 79% of sexual harassment victims are women, and 21% are men. Out of those numbers, 51% of those people were harassed by a supervisor.[citation needed] Based on data from the EEOC, the industries with the most sexual harassment reports between 2005 and 2015 were restaurant and hospitality, health care, academia, and the military.[29] Twelve percent of the victims received threats of termination if they did not comply with their predators' request.[citation needed]

An "I Believe Anita Hill" pin in support of Anita Hill's 1991 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment

In 1991, Anita Hill witnessed and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee against Supreme Court of the United States nominee Clarence Thomas, citing sexual harassment.[30] Hill said on October 11, 1991, in televised hearings that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the EEOC.[31] According to Hill, Thomas asked her out socially many times during her two years of employment as his assistant,[32] and after she declined his requests, he used work situations to discuss sexual subjects and push advances.[33][32] Since Hill testified in 1991, the term sexual harassment became known outside academic and legal circles, and the number of cases reported in the United States and Canada increased markedly, climbing steadily since.[30] Sexual harassment is discussed a lot in modern society. People are becoming more and more concerned about the laws of sexual harassment therein. Many school groups are focusing on this matter.[34]

In 1994, Paula Jones, a civil servant and former Arkansas state employee, sued President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. In the initial lawsuit, Jones cited Clinton for sexual harassment at a hotel in 1991. Following a series of civil suits and appeals the case was settled in 1998. President Clinton reached an out-of-court settlement with Jones, agreeing to pay her $850,000 but acknowledging no wrongdoing.[35]

Sexual bribery

A sexual bribe is the solicitation of sex, any sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior for a promise of elevation in work status or pay. It is in an employment setting in which a sexual relationship with an employer or superior is made an explicit or implied condition for obtaining/retaining employment or its benefits. A sexual bribe may be either overt or subtle but falls under the type of quid pro quo sexual harassment.[36][37]

Girl watching

Girl watching is considered a game amongst men in which they sexually evaluate women. This game is a form of sexual harassment, one that is very common in the workplace.[38] This game, just like other forms of sexual harassment are not the actions of an individual outside of the norm, but rather of those within it.[39] An analysis of sexual harassment surveys, conducted by Ilies, revealed that when the question regarding sexual harassment was phrased 'if women had ever experienced sexual harassment' then the frequency of women's responses was 24%, whereas if women were asked 'if they had experienced sexually harassing behaviors' then the frequency was 58%.[40]

Beth Quinn (2002), the author of "Sexual Harassment and Masculinity: The Power and Meaning of 'Girl Watching'" originally was not researching girl watching when she stumbled upon the game, however, Quinn (2002) stated that her work was more exploratory than confirmatory, explaining why she continued exploring the idea of Girl Watching.[38] At first, Quinn was researching the difference between what women and men see as sexual harassment. It was through the interviews (43) that she conducted that she noticed an occurrence of the game upon her interviews with men. As well as interviews Quinn (2002) observed the participants of her interviews and gathered more information regarding the game through said observations. She learned that men, usually when in a group, will watch the women around them and make comments towards them.[38]

Quinn (2002) found that men saw no problems with this and simply thought of it as a game that caused no harm to the women. According to Quinn, men are able to excuse sexual harassment, becomes it is not seen as such to them; men see it as a 'game' or 'playing'.[41][42] Men, as well, use humor to sexually harass women. Through humor, men can make crude remarks, and if caught can claim that it was only a joke and that women need to loosen up. This results in the continuation of sexual harassment against women.[43] Through instances like these, men sexually harassing women or their advances are encouraged, in turn forcing women to reject men politely, only resulting in more sexual advances from men.[44][42] Through Quinn (2002) asking men to imagine themselves as women, they unintentionally revealed the harm it causes women. The men began to claim they would make sure to dress appropriately and in ways to not draw the attention of other men so that they would not be targeted. It was this information that revealed the harm Girl Watching caused to women.[45] Quinn continued to learn more about men's feelings towards the game and its effect on women through her interviews. Quinn learned that it was fun for men until they got caught. If a woman looked towards the group that was watching her during their remarks or said something to them, it would make things awkward and no longer the fun game they were playing. This is because men were looking at women as objects and as soon as the women made notice of them or they got caught, they would become a subject objecting, ruining their game because she was no longer an object for their enjoyment.[45] Women are seen as objects, with no feelings or thoughts, not as subjects.[46]

This sexual harassment not only occurs because of men's attraction to women, but rather more as a power move. Similar to most cases of sexual harassment, men tend to harass as a way of staying in power.[47] When men feel threatened, they will resort to sexual harassment as a way of maintaining their power. Men also harass as a way of maintaining their masculinity, especially when they feel it is threatened.[44][48] When some men feel that their masculinity or their gender are threatened, they may resort to sexual harassment as a means of reinforcing their dominance and assuring themselves of their identity. Along with this, when men felt threatened, the likelihood of their participation in sexual harassing behaviors increased.[47] There is an unequal power balance between men and women, and this is a result of sexual harassment. This power balance being unequal is partly rooted in the sexual harassment of women by men with a view to the perpetuation of the latter's power.[39]

In the military

Studies of sexual harassment have found that it is markedly more common in the military than in civilian settings.[49][page needed][50] In 2018, an estimated 20,500 people in the US armed forces (about 13,000 women and 7,500 men) were assaulted, up from 14,900 in 2016.[51] A Canadian study found that key risk factors associated with military settings are the typically young age of personnel, the 'isolated and integrated' nature of accommodation, the minority status of women, and the disproportionate number of men in senior positions.[52] The traditionally masculine values and behaviors that are rewarded and reinforced in military settings, as well as their emphasis on conformity and obedience, are also thought to play a role.[53][54][55][56][57] Canadian research has also found that the risk increases during deployment on military operations.[58]

While some male military personnel are sexually harassed, women are substantially more likely to be affected.[49][58][59][60] Women who are younger and joined the military at a younger age face a greater risk, according to American, British and French research.[61][62][63]

Child recruits (under the age of 18) and children in cadet forces also face an elevated risk. In the UK, for example, hundreds of complaints of the sexual abuse of cadets have been recorded since 2012.[64][65][66] In Canada, one in ten complaints of sexual assault in military settings are from child cadets or their parents.[64][65][66][67][68]

Individuals detained by the military are also vulnerable to sexual harassment. During the Iraq War, for example, personnel of the US army and US Central Intelligence Agency committed a number of human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison,[69] including rape, sodomy, and other forms of sexual abuse.[70][71][72]

Although the risk of sexual misconduct in the armed forces is widely acknowledged, personnel are frequently reluctant to report incidents, typically out of fear of reprisals, according to research in Australia, Canada, France, the UK, and the US.[49][57][59][62][63][73][74]

Women affected by sexual harassment are more likely than other women to suffer stress-related mental illness afterwards.[52] Research in the US found that when sexual abuse of female military personnel is psychiatrically traumatic, the odds of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after deployment on operations increase by a factor of nine.[50]


Despite the prevalence of sexual harassment as a global issue, a large gap remains in research done on its measurement. The need for a robust and reliable measurement method to study and express the frequency of sexual harassment is higher than ever. It is important to have well-grounded results from surveys and other methods to learn how to educate, treat, and prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment. Providing empirical evidence on sexual harassment enforces its status as a widespread issue rather than an issue of the individual.[editorializing]

Research design

Sampling techniques

Sampling techniques are important to all types of research. The sampling matters because it affects the generalizability of the results and how they can used to better understand sexual harassment.[editorializing] Two methods of sampling include probability sampling and non-probability sampling which both provide different strengths and weaknesses to the study.[75]

Probability sampling involves taking a sample from a subset of the population using random selection. The random selection used in probability sampling is key to making the results generalizable to the population that is being studied, which makes it more used than other nonrandom methods.[75] Although the use of probability sampling has its perks, the data may not be representative or generalizable because the research is limited to certain contexts/environments. Sampling just people in a particular environment makes the results only applicable to that environment. For example, the results from a study of sexual harassment done in an office space in China cannot apply to the occurrence of sexual harassment at an American university.[75] Similarly, if the sample being used is too small it cannot apply and be generalized to the larger population.

Despite its potential for bias, non-probability sampling may be used in cases where the research lacks funding or the number of participants available to sample from is small.[75] The selection of participants in non-probability sampling is nonrandom and is often the most convenient. Many of the early studies of sexual harassment such the survey by Working Women's Institute (1975) and the Redbook Survey; have relied on connivence/non-probability sampling to conduct their research.[75] The sampling was often done at conventions, meetings, or sent out in letters or magazines.[citation needed]

Importance of wording

In every study used to measure sexual harassment, the wording of questions, introductions, definitions and other parts of the survey or interview can impact the responses. Language can be used in many ways to get certain responses from the participants.[citation needed]

Work done by Psychologist Mary Koss describes a problem in wording used to ask participants about sexual violence and how this can impact the results and assumption of prevalence.[42] Koss explained the problem with other estimation methods was that the prevalence of sexual violence was skewed because the beliefs of the people being asked were that nonconsensual heterosexual sex was normative.[42] Many sociologists believe that heterosexual relationships often involve nonconsensual sex that has been normalized because of the roles men and women fill in society. Men are dominant and aggressive, and women submit to their advances. This normality around nonconsensual heterosexual sex causes the spread of rape myths and the misrepresentation of rape prevalence in society.[42] To combat this bias, Koss created a new instrument used neutral wording in her questions to dig deeper into their experiences with nonconsensual sex.[42] She focused on women college students and found the prevalence of rape was much higher than was being reported. Koss' work displayed the importance of wording in surveys and her work received a lot of attention both good and bad.[42]


Past measurement methods relied on simple checklists of what was considered sexual harassment, but these lacked reliability and validity which made results invalid and non-generalizable.[76] These past methods left many unanswered questions on how to measure sexual harassment in the best way.[citation needed]

The first attempt at creating a way to classify and measure sexual harassment was created in 1980. Before there was a legal framework to follow, Till (1980) created a system based on a sample of college women, that classified different sexual harassment behaviors into five categories: Gender harassment, seductive behavior, sexual bribery, sexual coercion, sexual imposition, or assault.[76]

Later in 1992, Gruber created another classification system that included 11 specific types of harassment organized into three categories in decreasing order of severity. The three categories were verbal requests, verbal remarks, nonverbal displays.[76]

Early surveys

These early surveys lacked scientific methods of sampling, but they clearly demonstrated the prevalence of sexual harassment and were cited to prove the importance of sexual harassment as a social issue.[77]

Working Women's United (WWU)

Working Women's United (WWU) created one of the first studies to measure sexual harassment. The survey was given out during a speak out event designed to ask women about their experiences with sexual harassment. 155 women responded to the survey and 7 out 10 experienced sexual harassment. The respondents' occupations ranged from teacher to factory worker. This helped them conclude that sexual harassment was happening in all workplaces. Although this survey was not scientific, it was the first of its kind and inspired may other organizations and researchers to conduct studies of their own.[77]

Working Office Workers (WOW)

Women Office Workers (WOW) created a survey in 1975 that surveyed 15,000 women about their experiences and feelings about their workplace including the prevalence of sexual harassment. 1/3 of the respondents reported that they had experienced "direct sexual harassment".[77]

Redbook Survey

In 1975, the Redbook Survey was created and was used to survey women on a naval base on their experiences with sexual harassment. A survey was included in an issue of the Redbook magazine gathered data from 9,000 respondents. 81% of respondents reported they had experienced sexual harassment. This survey was then used again in other environments to test the prevalence of sexual harassment, proving its high external validity.[77]

US Merit System Protection Board (USMSPB)

From 1981 to 1987, The US Merit System Protection Board (USMSPB) created another classification system and data collection method.[76] The Office of Merit Systems Review and Studies (MSPBs) created this scientific survey to measure sexual harassment in the federal workplace in response to the many questions people were posing around workplace sexual harassment. The survey was created after reviewing past research, cases of sexual harassment, and by working with community members, academic researchers and federal officials.[78] After revisions and testing, the final survey was created. They tested the survey on a stratified random sample from employees in the executive branch from a different sexes, minorities, salaries, and organizations.[78] The survey was conducted from May 1978 – May 1980. In this model, seven harassing behaviors were classified into three levels of severity: less severe, moderately severe, and most severe.[76] Examples of these levels were: less severe: unwelcome sexual remarks, suggestive looks and gestures, and deliberate touching, moderately severe: pressure for dates, pressure for sexual favors, and unwelcome letters and telephone calls, and most severe: actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.[78] This data collection method requires participants to indicate if they had experienced the behavior described. They found that 42% of women and 15% of men had experienced and reported sexual harassment in the workplace.[78] They also received more details information on who was more likely to report/experience sexual harassment and what types of harassment were taking place. They also observed the consequences of harassment which was mostly reported as victims leaving their jobs. Overall, concluded that harassment in widespread, has negative consequences, and impacts a variety of victims. This method has been critiqued because it ignores the need for reliability and validity of its measures.[78]

Uniform Crime Report (UCR)

The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) served as the basis for reaching statistics on the prevalence of rape against women in the 1980s.[79] Although this survey were useful, it was often criticized for underestimating the true prevalence of rape. Critics argued that one of the main issues with the UCR was that it relied on reported crimes for its reports of prevalence, but many rapes are not reported or are mishandled which skews the data.[79]

Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ)

Developed by Fitzgerald et al. in 1988, the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ), was the first attempt to study the prevalence of sexual harassment in a scientific manner.[76] The SEQ used self-reporting and required participants to respond with the answer that they felt best described their experience. They picked from three options on a scale measure: never, once, and more than once.[76] The scenarios were only listed in behavior terms, and they did not use the word sexual harassment until the end to avoid confounding variables of self-labeling. The survey resulted in frequencies and percentages used in statistical analyses. The test was retested multiple times and produced reliable and valid results. The SEQ is very widely used in a variety of environments and cultures. The SEQ is often cited as the best instrument of measurement available. Example questions included: Have you ever been in a situation where a supervisor or coworker habitually told suggestive stories or offensive jokes?.[76] Despite the high praise for the SEQ, there are also several critiques on its design. For example, the wording of the questions causes skewed answers, and the scoring method can only produce frequency distributions.[76]

SEQ-W (1995)

Fitzgerald et al. (1995), created and tested the SEQ-W, an updated version of the SEQ considering the critiques. Their framework consists of three dimensions: sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention, and gender harassment.[76] They defined gender harassment as behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal that project/express violent and insulting feelings about women. Examples of this include gestures, taunts, hazing, threats, sexual slurs, etc. Gender harassment is the most widespread form of harassment but its typically ignored because it is not seen as big of an issue as other forms of sexual harassment. Sexual coercion includes the exchange of sexual acts/favors for job related benefits (quid pro quo). This model was tested on different samples of women from a variety of occupations, education levels, and cultures. After testing, the model was found to be structurally valid across different settings and cultures. The model was reported as reliable, efficient, valid, and practical.[76]

Sexual Experiences Survey (SES)

In an attempt to go beyond the past methods and create a more accurate representation of the occurrence of rape and other sexual victimizations, Koss and colleagues developed a new measurement tool called the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES).[79] The SES included a legal definition of rape, accounted for other experiences of sexual harassment/assault and used graphic language and "behaviorally specific" questions to cue the victims recall.[79]

The SES and its first testing caused a large increase in the research done on rape. Despite its strengths, the SES was critiqued for using broad and "poorly phrased" definitions and question.[79] They argued that the language used caused women report that they had experienced a form of sexual harassment but not been raped. These critics concluded that the SES overestimates rape.[79]

In 1992, the SES went through a redesign and a new name. The now called National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) built on the critiques from the past survey and built a brand-new methodological tool.[79]

Nationwide Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)

The Nationwide Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) annually conducts research and reports information about different types of criminal victimization such as robbery, theft, household burglary and sexual victimization [80] The NCVS has been conducted since 1973 and uses the same methods as when it was created which makes it the only source to compare the prevalence of sexual harassment across time.[80]

To investigate this claim of underestimation of rape, the National Research Council held a panel to review and identify the errors within the NCVS.[80] The conclusion from this panel was that the NCVS had several methodological problems that caused this underestimation of rape and sexual assault.[80]

One of the main issues with NCVS was that using language that is focused on crime and victimization which caused respondents to answer different ways. Whether respondents did not want to label their experiences as rape or if they feared that their perpetrator was going to be punished the use of language was leading to inaccurate results.[80] Additionally, the NCVS fails to protect the privacy of its participants. The interviewer has to ask one of the questions to everyone 12 and older in a certain house. This causes everyone asked in that area aware of the others' participation and what questions everyone is being asked.[80] This risk of lack of privacy could lead respondents to not answer honestly, or answer in a socially desirable way. Finally, the NCVS has limited definitions of rape that lead to confusion and ambiguity.[80]

College sexual harassment surveys

National College Women Sexual Victimization Survey (NCVS) vs National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAW)

Two of the widely used surveys, the NCVS and the NVAW can be compared to examine the strengths and weakness of each and how this impacts their results.The sample used for the National College Women Sexual Victimization Survey was made of 233 higher education institutions (194 four-year institutions and 39 two-year institutions) in the United States with 1,000 students or more.[79] The sampling method used was a stratified sampling method to pick institutions and then a random sample was taken of students. The sample size who took the survey was 4,446 students. The National Violence Against Women Survey used the same sampling method but had slightly different sample numbers. The title of the surveys and the survey description were different.[79] The NCVS named their survey "The Extent and Nature of Sexual Victimization of College Women" and the NVAW named it "Victimization Among College Women".[79]

The methods used were also similar, such as that both the surveys were given by professionally trained women interviewers. The interviews were completed using a computer assisted telephone interviewing system (CATI).[79] The average interview time was longer for the NCVS than the NVAW (25.9 minutes vs 12.7 minutes).[79] They both had similar response rates, but the NVAW had a higher response rate oof 91.6% compared the NCVS rate of 85.6%.[79]

The surveys gave the same introduction to the interview with the same wording:

"As you may recall, the purpose of the study is to better understand the extent and nature of criminal victimization among college women. Regardless of whether or not you have ever personally been victimized, your answers will help us to understand and deal with the problem of victimizations at your campus and nationally.[79]"

The two surveys used different definitions of completed rape, attempted rape, and threat of rape. The NCVS used a broader definition of completed rape that included other instances other than just penile vaginal penetration, whereas the NVAW used a more objective and narrow definition.[79] Attempted rape and threat of rape was defined by the NVAW more broadly and included the element of psychological coercion as an element of force.[79]

The two surveys first had the women answer the survey questions to determine if they had experienced an incident of victimization, then if they had they would fill out an incident report to determine the nature of victimization.[79]

The estimates of rape were statistically lower for the NVAW study than the estimates from the NSCVS.[79] The difference in estimation is due to the use of wide definition and behaviorally specific questions used in the NSCVS.[citation needed]

The differences in these methods displays the important implications of measurement methods such as the importance of the wording of questions and language used in introductions or interviews because this can influence responses.[citation needed]

National College Women Sexual Victimization Survey (NCWSV)

Through an experiment, Bonnie Fisher, and colleagues (1996) created the NCWSV to compare the wording of questions to see how the results from the NCVS would compare to the NCWSV. The NCWSV questions included behavioral specific questions rather than questions centered around confusing terminology that was not clearly defined. Specifically, the NCVS does not ask about rape occurring when incapacitated (due to drugs or alcohol). The results of this study were shocking because they found that the wording used in the NCVS caught less than 10% of the incidents of rape that the NCWSV did. These results lead to suggestions that the NCVS needed to be reworked or a new survey needed to be created to accurately measure sexual assault.[citation needed]

Online College Social Life Survey (OCSLS)

The Online College Social Life Survey, used from 2005 to 2011, asked questions about incapacitated and attempted rape. The respondents were asked to answer these questions: "Since you started college, has someone tried to physically force you to have sexual intercourse, but you got out of the situation without having intercourse?" and "Since you started college, has someone had sexual intercourse with you that you did not want when you were drunk, passed out, asleep, drugged, or otherwise incapacitated?".[80] This survey resulted in small estimations of rape. The reason for this underestimation is that they did not ask questions that would include unwanted touching/grabbing or psychological coercion.[80] Other college surveys such as the Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) survey, created in 2007, had limited samples, only drawing responses few universities making data inapplicable to most of the female college population.[80]

Self Labeling, Latent Class Cluster (LCC), and Behavioral Experiences

A study done by Nielsen et al. (2010), tested three different estimation/measurement methods to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of measurement.[81] Current research methods are often criticized for having faulty research design that impacts the validity of the results. The results are often biased due to variations in the operational definitions and the lack of representative samples. The article expresses the importance of accurate measurement methods because the conclusions taken from these studies are used to make judgements for prevention and treatment of sexual harassment. The three methods of surveying tested were Self labeling, Latent Class Cluster (LCC) modeling and behavioral experiences.[81]

  • Self Labeling
    • Self-labeling is a good method because it is easy to administer and does not take up a lot of space on the survey. But it does not provide details on the nature of their experiences or how frequent the experience is. Self-labeling is also very subjective because it forces the participant to define sexual harassment themselves and that definition may differ based on the individual. Finally, self-labeling might make some participants feel threatened to admit that they are victims/label themselves [81]
  • Latent Class Cluster (LCC)
    • Latent Class Cluster (LCC) is beneficial because it creates several different groups based on the nature and frequency of the respondents' experiences rather than creating just two groups of respondents (harassed or non-harassed). It also shows stronger predictive validity.[81]
  • Behavioral Experiences
    • Behavioral experiences method is effective because its more objective and does not make them label their experiences.[81] They suggest that the best measurement method is a combination of the LCC and behavioral experience approach.[81]

Bergen Sexual Harassment Scale (BSHS)

The Bergen Sexual Harassment Scale (BSHS) consists of two parts. The first part measures exposure to sexual harassment by asking participants to respond to 11 items categorized into different types of sexual harassment: unwanted verbal sexual attention, unwanted physical sexual behaviors, and sexual pressure.[81] The second part asks participants to indicate if they believe they had been exposed to sexual harassment at work in the time. They answered it with (no, yes to a certain extent, or yes to a large extent). They were not given a definition of sexual harassment when doing part two.[81]

Computer Based Interaction Model

A new measure created by Maass and colleagues using a computer-based model that measures gender harassment through behavior. Male participants are told they are interacting with a female partner through the computer.[82] They want to see if the participants will send harassing content/messages to the partner (computer). They found that men were more likely to harass their partner if the partner threatened the males standing in gender hierarchy/masculinity (example: partner identifies as feminist). This article presents an alternative measure than other studies.[82] This article forces the male participants to imagine themselves in scenarios and answer on what behavior they would most likely do. They were attempting to determine if men were more likely to harass a female coworker if that coworker was threatening their masculinity.[82]

Varied behaviors

One of the difficulties in understanding sexual harassment is that it involves a range of behaviors. In most cases (although not in all cases) it is difficult for the victim to describe what they experienced. This can be related to difficulty classifying the situation or could be related to stress and humiliation experienced by the recipient. Moreover, behavior and motives vary between individual cases.[83]

Author Martha Langelan describes four different classes of harassers.[84]

  • A predatory harasser: a person who gets sexual thrills from humiliating others. This harasser may become involved in sexual extortion, and may frequently harass just to see how targets respond. Those who do not resist may even become targets for rape.
  • A dominance harasser: the most common type, who engages in harassing behavior as an ego boost.
  • Strategic or territorial harassers who seek to maintain privilege in jobs or physical locations, for example a man's harassment of a female employee in a predominantly male occupation.
  • A street harasser: Another type of sexual harassment performed in public places by strangers. Street harassment includes verbal and nonverbal behavior, remarks that are frequently sexual in nature and comment on physical appearance or a person's presence in public.[85]


Poster created by the U.S. Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention (SHARP)

Sexual harassment and assault may be prevented by secondary school,[86] college,[87][88] and workplace education programs.[89] At least one program for fraternity men produced "sustained behavioral change".[87][90]

Many sororities and fraternities in the United States take preventive measures against hazing and hazing activities during the participants' pledging processes (which may often include sexual harassment). Many Greek organizations and universities nationwide have anti-hazing policies that explicitly recognize various acts and examples of hazing, and offer preventive measures for such situations.[91][full citation needed]

Anti-sexual harassment training programs have little evidence of effectiveness and "Some studies suggest that training may in fact backfire, reinforcing gendered stereotypes that place women at a disadvantage".[92]

The use of audio and video recording can help in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.[93] Audio recording apps are available for use on smartphones, and can for instance be used during job interviews.


The impact of sexual harassment can vary. In research carried out by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, 17,335 female victims of sexual assault were asked to name the feelings that resulted from the most serious incident of sexual assault that they had encountered since the age of 15. 'Anger, annoyance, and embarrassment were the most common emotional responses, with 45% of women feeling anger, 41% annoyance, and 36% embarrassment. Furthermore, close to one in three women (29%) who has experienced sexual harassment have said that they felt fearful as a result of the most serious incident, while one in five (20%) victims say that the most serious incident made themselves feel ashamed of what had taken place.[94] In other situations, harassment may lead to temporary or prolonged stress or depression depending on the recipient's psychological abilities to cope and the type of harassment and the social support or lack thereof for the recipient. Harnois and Bastos (2018) show an association between women's perceptions of workplace sexual harassment and self-reported physical health.[95] In addition, a study conducted in 2010 indicated that workplace sexual harassment is linked to greater mental health issues and lower job satisfaction, regardless of assessment technique or gender.[81] Psychologists and social workers report that severe or chronic sexual harassment can have the same psychological effects as rape or sexual assault.[96] For example, in 1995, Judith Coflin committed suicide after chronic sexual harassment by her bosses and coworkers. (Her family was later awarded six million dollars in punitive and compensatory damages.)[citation needed] Victims who do not submit to harassment may also experience various forms of retaliation, including isolation and bullying.

As an overall social and economic effect every year, sexual harassment deprives women from active social and economic participation and costs hundreds of millions of dollars in lost educational and professional opportunities for mostly girls and women.[97] However, the quantity of men implied in these conflicts is significant.


Sexual harassment, by definition, is unwanted and not to be tolerated. There are ways, however, for offended and injured people to overcome the resultant psychological effects, remain in or return to society, regain healthy feelings within personal relationships when they were affected by the outside relationship trauma, regain social approval, and recover the ability to concentrate and be productive in educational and work environments. These include stress management and therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy,[98] friends and family support, and advocacy.[99][100]

Immediate psychological and legal counseling are recommended since self-treatment may not release stress or remove trauma, and simply reporting to authorities may not have the desired effect, may be ignored, or may further injure the victim at its response.

A 1991 study done by K.R. Yount found three dominant strategies developed by a sample of women coal miners to manage sexual harassment on the job: the "lady", the "flirt", and the "tomboy". The "ladies" were typically the older women workers who tended to disengage from the men, kept their distance, avoided using profanity, avoided engaging in any behavior that might be interpreted as suggestive. They also tended to emphasize by their appearance and manners that they were ladies. The consequences for the "ladies" were that they were the targets of the least amount of come-ons, teasing and sexual harassment, but they also accepted the least prestigious and lowest-paid jobs.[101]

The "flirts" were most often the younger single women. As a defense mechanism, they pretended to be flattered when they were the targets of sexual comments. Consequently, they became perceived as the "embodiment of the female stereotype,... as particularly lacking in potential and were given the fewest opportunities to develop job skills and to establish social and self-identities as miners."[102][page needed]

The "tomboys" were generally single women, but were older than the "flirts". They attempted to separate themselves from the female stereotype and focused on their status as coal miners and tried to develop a "thick skin". They responded to harassment with humor, comebacks, sexual talk of their own, or reciprocation. As a result, they were often viewed as sluts or sexually promiscuous and as women who violated the sexual double standard. Consequently, they were subjected to intensified and increased harassment by some men. It was not clear whether the tomboy strategy resulted in better or worse job assignments.[101]

The findings of this study may be applicable to other work settings, including factories, restaurants, offices, and universities. The study concludes that individual strategies for coping with sexual harassment are not likely to be effective and may have unexpected negative consequences for the workplace and may even lead to increased sexual harassment. Women who try to deal with sexual harassment on their own, regardless of what they do, seem to be in a no-win situation.[101] For example, after an anti-groping device allowing victims to mark their assailants with an invisible ink stamp has been released in Japan, some experts claimed it is wrong to put the onus on the victim.[103]

Common effects on the victims

Common psychological, academic, professional, financial, and social effects of sexual harassment and retaliation:

  • Becoming publicly sexualized (i.e. groups of people "evaluate" the victim to establish if he or she is "worth" the sexual attention or the risk to the harasser's career)
  • Being objectified and humiliated by scrutiny and gossip
  • Decreased work or school performance as a result of stress conditions; increased absenteeism in fear of harassment repetition
  • Defamation of character and reputation
  • Effects on sexual life and relationships: can put extreme stress upon relationships with significant others, sometimes resulting in divorce
  • Firing and refusal for a job opportunity can lead to loss of job or career, loss of income
  • Having one's personal life offered up for public scrutiny—the victim becomes the "accused", and his or her dress, lifestyle, and private life will often come under attack.
  • Having to drop courses, change academic plans, or leave school (loss of tuition) in fear of harassment repetition or as a result of stress
  • Having to relocate to another city, another job, or another school
  • Loss of references/recommendations
  • Loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred
  • Loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or his or her colleagues, especially in case they are not supportive, difficulties or stress on peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues
  • Psychological stress and health impairment
  • Weakening of support network, or being ostracized from professional or academic circles (friends, colleagues, or family may distance themselves from the victim, or shun him or her altogether)

Some of the psychological and health effects that can occur in someone who has been sexually harassed as a result of stress and humiliation: depression; anxiety; panic attacks; sleeplessness; nightmares; shame; guilt; difficulty concentrating; headaches; fatigue; loss of motivation; stomach problems; eating disorders (such as weight loss or gain); alcoholism; feeling betrayed, violated, angry, violent towards the perpetrator, powerless or out of control; increased blood pressure; loss of confidence or self-esteem; withdrawal; isolation; overall loss of trust in people; traumatic stress; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); complex post-traumatic stress disorder; suicidal thoughts or attempts, and suicide.[104][105][106][107][108]

Post-complaint retaliation and backlash

Retaliation and backlash against a victim are very common, particularly a complainant. Victims who speak out against sexual harassment are often labeled troublemakers who are on their own "power trips", or who are looking for attention. Similar to cases of rape or sexual assault, the victim often becomes the accused, with their appearance, private life, and character likely to fall under intrusive scrutiny and attack.[109] They risk hostility and isolation from colleagues, supervisors, teachers, fellow students, and even friends. They may become the targets of mobbing or relational aggression.[104]

Women are not necessarily sympathetic to other women complainants who have been sexually harassed. If the harasser was male, internalized sexism (or jealousy over the sexual attention towards the victim) may encourage some women to react with as much hostility towards the complainant as some male colleagues.[110] Fear of being targeted for harassment or retaliation themselves may also cause some women to respond with hostility.[111] For example, when Lois Jenson filed her lawsuit against Eveleth Taconite Co., the women shunned her both at work and in the community—many of these women later joined her suit.[112] Women may even project hostility onto the victim in order to bond with their male coworkers and build trust.[111]

Retaliation has occurred when a sexual harassment victim suffers a negative action as a result of the harassment. For example, a complainant be given poor evaluations or low grades, have their projects sabotaged, be denied work or academic opportunities, have their work hours cut back, and other actions against them which undermine their productivity, or their ability to advance at work or school, being fired after reporting sexual harassment or leading to unemployment as they may be suspended, asked to resign, or be fired from their jobs altogether. Retaliation can even involve further sexual harassment, and also stalking and cyberstalking of the victim.[110][111] Moreover, a school professor or employer accused of sexual harassment, or who is the colleague of a perpetrator, can use their power to see that a victim is never hired again (blacklisting), or never accepted to another school.

Of the women who have approached her to share their own experiences of being sexually harassed by their teachers, feminist writer Naomi Wolf wrote in 2004:[113]

I am ashamed of what I tell them: that they should indeed worry about making an accusation because what they fear is likely to come true. Not one of the women I have heard from had an outcome that was not worse for her than silence. One, I recall, was drummed out of the school by peer pressure. Many faced bureaucratic stonewalling. Some women said they lost their academic status as golden girls overnight; grants dried up, letters of recommendation were no longer forthcoming. No one was met with a coherent process that was not weighted against them. Usually, the key decision-makers in the college or university—especially if it was a private university—joined forces to, in effect, collude with the faculty member accused; to protect not him necessarily but the reputation of the university, and to keep information from surfacing in a way that could protect other women. The goal seemed to be not to provide a balanced forum, but damage control.

Another woman who was interviewed by sociologist Helen Watson said, "Facing up to the crime and having to deal with it in public is probably worse than suffering in silence. I found it to be a lot worse than the harassment itself."[114]

Backlash stress

Backlash stress is stress resulting from an uncertainty regarding changing norms for interacting with women in the workplace.[115] Backlash stress now deters many male workers from befriending female colleagues, or providing them with any assistance, such as holding doors open. As a result, women are being handicapped by a lack of the necessary networking and mentorship.[116][117]

Women of color

The sexual harassment women of color face are often ignored when discussions about sexual harassment women face occur.[118] Harassment of women of color tends to stem from racial discrimination.[118] Poor African American women are more likely to experience sexual harassment but less likely to be seen as a victim.[119][120] It is conditions like these that make it difficult for women of color to report sexual harassment, allowing the cycle to continue.[121] Earlier studies revealed that there was no difference between the sexual harassment rates of white women and women of color.[122][123] However, there is evidence that reveals women of color deal with sexual harassment, this sexual harassment is on more severe lines.[124][125]

Race and gender influence most of the sexual harassment that women of color face. Women of color are less likely to report sexual harassment if the perpetrator is the same race. This is known as the code of silence. This is influenced by the race of the harasser, and predominately affects women of color.[126] Black women do not usually see things that a white woman would claim to be sexual harassment because they are accustomed to it, it is normal to them and so there is not much of a problem.[118]

Something that is unique to the sexual harassment of women of color is the common bond factor. The common bond factor is when a man of color sees someone of their own race or culture, and they feel as if it is okay to sexually harass them. They think that they can act and talk without regard to the law because they feel as if it is not being broken.[126]

The perception of sexual harassment from women of color includes racism and sexism whereas white women's perception only includes sexism. There is this interlocking of relations, commonly known as intersectionality, within the sexual harassment women of color face, between racism and sexism. White women, when speaking about sexual harassment, speak from the role of a victim whereas women of color speak from the role of a harasser. Women of color, as well, have stereotypes taken into consideration when it comes to harassment. These stereotypes make it difficult for women of color to come forward about sexual harassment, as they will likely not be believed.[126] For instance, there is the stereotype that Latin women are super emotional and tend to overreact. This stereotype may be conveyed when a Latin woman comes forward about sexual harassment, resulting in her claim not being taken seriously. Speaking up results in stereotypes being put on the person coming forward, making them uncomfortable with doing so.[126] Similarly, it is difficult for women of color to be supported when speaking out, as their experiences are different from those of white women, as is the case of Anita Hill.[127] Particularly, the feminist movement is geared towards helping white women rather than women of color due to women of color's experiences being foreign. In turn, women of color do not join feminist movements or groups because they do not see their experiences reflected.[127]

There is a relationship between legal status and sexual harassment; there is an intersectionality between them. Citizen status can influence women experiencing or reporting sexual harassment. Being undocumented can make it difficult to come forward for fear of being deported.[118] White women with citizenship say that sexual harassment is unwanted behavior, women of color without citizenship found it difficult to explain what they thought sexual harassment was, but that it did include race.[118] This however makes it difficult for Black women to differentiate sexual harassment in the workplace from sexual harassment in society.[118]

Organizational policies and procedures

Most companies have policies against sexual harassment; however, these policies are not designed and should not attempt to "regulate romance" which goes against human urges.[128]

Act upon a report of harassment inside the organization should be:

The investigation should be designed to obtain a prompt and thorough collection of the facts, an appropriate responsive action, and an expeditious report to the complainant that the investigation has been concluded, and, to the full extent appropriate, the action taken.

— Mark I. Schickman, Sexual Harassment. The employer's role in prevention. American Bar Association[128]

When organizations do not take the respective satisfactory measures for properly investigating, stress and psychological counseling and guidance, and just deciding of the problem this could lead to:

  • Decreased productivity and increased team conflict
  • Decreased study or job satisfaction
  • Loss of students and staff. Loss of students who leave school and staff resignations to avoid harassment. Resignations and firings of alleged harassers.
  • Decreased productivity and increased absenteeism by staff or students experiencing harassment
  • Decrease in success at meeting academic and financial goals
  • Increased health-care and sick-pay costs because of the health consequences of harassment or retaliation
  • The knowledge that harassment is permitted can undermine ethical standards and discipline in the organization in general, as staff or students lose respect for, and trust in, their seniors who indulge in, or turn a blind eye to, or treat improperly sexual harassment
  • If the problem is ignored or not treated properly, a company's or school's image can suffer
  • High jury awards for the employee, attorney fees and litigation costs if the problem is ignored or not treated properly (in case of firing the victim) when the complainants are advised to and take the issue to court.[30][107][108][129][130][131][132]

Studies show that organizational climate (an organization's tolerance, policy, procedure etc.) and workplace environment are essential for understanding the conditions in which sexual harassment is likely to occur, and the way its victims will be affected (yet, research on specific policy and procedure, and awareness strategies is lacking).[133] Another element which increases the risk for sexual harassment is the job's gender context (having few women in the close working environment or practicing in a field which is perceived as atypical for women).[134]

Although research on occupational sexual assault is still in its infancy, the European Union reports that 40–50% of women report having encountered inappropriate sexual conduct or sexual harassment at work (World Health Organization, 2012). According to Burn (2018), In order to reduce sexual harassment, organisational climates and circumstances that support sexual harassment must change. Changes to the normative environments that sustain sexual harassment include the adoption of explicit anti-harassment rules and practices. Sexual harassment rules have the potential to deter sexual harassment and provide victims with channels for redress. According to Medeiros (2019),[135] the current endeavor puts out a framework for creating workplace sexual harassment prevention programmes and is based on research on training and development, college sexual assault, and workplace sexual harassment. The suggestions for preventing sexual harassment are mostly based on the research on sexual assault on college campuses. The persistent curiosity in and study of educational institutions for sexual assault preventative measures, despite this approach's shortcomings, has produced a database of researched interventions that fills in the gaps left by the dearth of empirical studies on sexual assault preventive interventions. Additionally, sexual harassment and assault have been characterized as a continuum where less severe behaviors have the potential to escalate into more violent acts over time if left unchecked (Department of Defence, 2014; Fitzgerald,1993). Hence, even if sexual harassment and assault are distinct behavior's, their increasing prevalence indicates that interventions ought to address the entire range of behaviors', particularly considering the restricted time and financial resources allocated to educational programs.[136]

According to Dr. Orit Kamir, the most effective way to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace, and also influence the public's state of mind, is for the employer to adopt a clear policy prohibiting sexual harassment and to make it very clear to their employees. Many women prefer to make a complaint and to have the matter resolved within the workplace rather than to "air out the dirty laundry" with a public complaint and be seen as a traitor by colleagues, superiors and employers, adds Kamir.[137][138][139]

Most prefer a pragmatic solution that would stop the harassment and prevent future contact with the harasser rather than turning to the police. More about the difficulty in turning an offense into a legal act can be found in Felstiner & Sarat's (1981) study,[140] which describes three steps a victim (of any dispute) must go through before turning to the justice system: naming—giving the assault a definition, blaming—understanding who is responsible for the violation of rights and facing them, and finally, claiming—turning to the authorities.

Evolution of law in different jurisdictions

It may include a range of actions from mild transgressions to sexual abuse or sexual assault.[2] Sexual harassment is a form of illegal employment discrimination in many countries, and is a form of abuse (sexual and psychological abuses) and bullying.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women classifies violence against women into three categories: that occurring in the family, that occurring within the general community, and that perpetrated or condoned by the State. The term sexual harassment is used in defining violence occurring in the general community, which is defined as: "Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution."[141]

Sexual harassment is subject to a directive in the European Union.[142] The United States' Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states, "It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person's sex."

In India, the case of Vishakha and others v State of Rajasthan in 1997 has been credited with establishing sexual harassment as illegal.[143] In Israel, the 1988 Equal Employment Opportunity Law made it a crime for an employer to retaliate against an employee who had rejected sexual advances, but it was not until 1998 that the Israeli Sexual Harassment Law made such behavior illegal.[144]

In May 2002, the European Union Council and Parliament amended a 1976 Council Directive on the equal treatment of men and women in employment to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, naming it a form of sex discrimination and violation of dignity. This Directive required all Member States of the European Union to adopt laws on sexual harassment, or amend existing laws to comply with the Directive by October 2005.[145]

In 2005, China added new provisions to the Law on Women's Right Protection to include sexual harassment.[146] In 2006, "The Shanghai Supplement" was drafted to help further define sexual harassment in China.[147]

Sexual harassment was specifically criminalized for the first time in modern Egyptian history in June 2014.[148]

As of 2016, sexual harassment remains legal in Kuwait[149] and Djibouti.[150]

Varied legal guidelines and definitions

The United Nations General Recommendation 19 to the convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women defines sexual harassment of women to include:

such unwelcome sexually determined behavior as physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable ground to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment.

While such conduct can be harassment of women by men, many laws around the world which prohibit sexual harassment recognize that both men and women may be harassers or victims of sexual harassment. However, most claims of sexual harassment are made by women.[151]

There are many similarities, and also important differences in laws and definitions used around the world.



Sexual harassment is rife in Egypt. A 2013 study from the United Nations showed that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have suffered some form of sexual harassment. Authorities punish women when they do speak out.[152][153][154]


In 2016, a stricter law proscribing sexual harassment was proposed in Morocco specifying fines and a possible jail sentence of up to 6 months.[155] The existing law against harassment was reported to not be upheld, as harassment was not reported to police by victims and even when reported, was not investigated by police or prosecuted by the courts.[155][156] On June 1, 2023, a Moroccan court sentenced a 32-year-old man to two years in prison for sexually harassing and forcibly kissing a woman inside a church.[157]


The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 defines sexual harassment as "... a person sexually harasses another person (the person harassed ) if: (a) the person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed; or (b) engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed; in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated."[158]


In the European Union, there is a directive on sexual harassment. The Directive 2002/73/EC – equal treatment of 23 September 2002 amending Council Directive 76/207/EEC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions states:[142]

For the purposes of this Directive, the following definitions shall apply: (...)

  • sexual harassment: where any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment

Harassment and sexual harassment within the meaning of this Directive shall be deemed to be discrimination on the grounds of sex and therefore prohibited.

The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence also addresses the issue of sexual harassment (Article 40), using a similar definition.[159]


Sexual harassment is defined as when any verbal, non-verbal or physical action is used to change a victim's sexual status against the will of the victim and resulting in the victim feeling inferior or hurting the victim's dignity. Men and women are looked upon as equal, and any action trying to change the balance in status with the differences in sex as a tool, is also sexual harassment. In the workplace, jokes, remarks, etc., are only deemed discriminatory if the employer has stated so in their written policy. Law number 1385 of December 21, 2005 regulates this area.[160][161]


In France, both the Criminal Code and the Labor Code are relevant to the issue of sexual harassment. Until May 4, 2012, article 222-33 of the French Criminal Code described sexual harassment as "The fact of harassing anyone in order to obtain favors of a sexual nature".[162] Since 2002, it recognized the possibility of sexual harassment between co-workers and not only by supervisors. On May 4, 2012, the Supreme Court of France quashed the definition of the criminal code as being too vague.[163] The 2012 decision resulted from a law on priority preliminary rulings on the issue of constitutionality. As a consequence of this decision, all pending procedures before criminal courts were cancelled. Several feminist NGOs, such as AFVT, criticized this decision. President François Hollande, the Minister of Justice (Christiane Taubira) and the Minister of Equality (Najat Belkacem) asked that a new law be voted rapidly. As a result, LOI n°2012-954 du 6 août 2012 was voted in, providing a new definition.[164][165] In addition to criminal provisions, the French Labor code also prohibits sexual harassment.[166] The legislator voted a law in 2008[167] that copied the 2002/73/EC Directive[168][169] definition without modifying the French Labour Code.

According to Abigail C. Saguy in her book What is Sexual Harassment: From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne, "According to French penal law, sexual harassment is also different from rape and sexual assault in that it does not involve physical contact. Rather, with sexual harassment, economic dependence and official authority alone are used to pressure a person into having sexual relations(pg.24)."


At the Tavern, by Johann Michael Neder, 1833, Germanisches Nationalmuseum

In June 2016, the governing coalition decided about the key points of a tightening of the law governing sexual offenses (Sexualstrafrecht, literally: law on the punishment of sexual delicts). On July 7, 2016, the Bundestag passed the resolution[170] and by fall of that year, the draft bill will be presented to the second chamber, the Bundesrat.[171] By this change, sexual harassment shall become punishable under the Sexualstrafrecht.[172]

Now sexual harassment is punishable by law according to § 184i of the law governing sexual offenses. The law only states unwanted physical contact as sexual haressment but has been extended in 2020 to include "cybergrooming" as well.[173]


In response to the EU Directive 2002/73/EC, Greece enacted Law 3488/2006 (O.G.A.'.191).[174] The law specifies that sexual harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination in the workplace. Victims also have the right to compensation.[175] Prior to this law, the policy on sexual harassment in Greece was very weak. Sexual harassment was not defined by any law, and victims could only use general laws, which were very poor in addressing the issue.[176][177]


As of 2023, there is no formal law in Russia that prohibits or criminalizes repeated sexual harassment or any sexual advancements that result in women or men losing their jobs or some other adverse effects that can be proven in a court of law. Per articles 132-133 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation (CC RF) only criminal sexual conduct is outlawed, including all non-consensual sex between individuals: rape, sex with underage etc. Per article 133 (previously, Article 118 of CC RF 1990) various kinds of extortion and coercion are also criminalized.[178]

According to the Moscow Center for Gender Studies study published in 1997, practically in all cases authorities did not investigate or enforce these articles.[178]

In 2008, The Daily Telegraph quoted a survey in which "100 percent of female professionals [in Russia] said they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their bosses, 32 per cent said they had had intercourse with them at least once and another seven per cent claimed to have been raped."[179][better source needed]


A ban on discrimination was included in the Federal Constitution (Article 4, Paragraph 2 of the old Federal Constitution) in 1981 and adopted in Article 8, paragraph 2 of the revised Constitution. The ban on sexual harassment in the workplace forms part of the Federal Act on Gender Equality (GEA) of 24 March 1995, where it is one of several provisions which prohibit discrimination in employment and which are intended to promote equality. Article 4 of the GEA defines the circumstances, Article 5 legal rights and Article 10 protection against dismissal during the complaints procedure.[180] Article 328, paragraph 1 of the Code of Obligations (OR), Article 198 (2) of the Penal Code (StGB) and Article 6, paragraph 1 of the Employment Act (ArG) contain further statutory provisions on the ban on sexual harassment. The ban on sexual harassment is intended exclusively for employers, within the scope of their responsibility for protection of legal personality, mental and physical well-being and health.[citation needed]

Article 4 of the GEA of 1995 discusses the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace: "Any harassing behaviour of a sexual nature or other behaviour related to the person's sex that adversely affects the dignity of women or men in the workplace is discriminatory. Such behaviour includes in particular threats, the promise of advantages, the use of coercion and the exertion of pressure in order to obtain favours of a sexual nature."[180]

United Kingdom

The Discrimination Act of 1975 was modified to establish sexual harassment as a form of discrimination in 1986.[181] It states that harassment occurs where there is unwanted conduct on the ground of a person's sex or unwanted conduct of a sexual nature and that conduct has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. If an employer treats someone less favourably because they have rejected, or submitted to, either form of harassment described above, this is also harassment.[182] In March 2021, a study by UN Women UK found out that 97% of young women 18-24 have experienced some sort of sexual harassment.[183]

Sexual harassment is also now considered discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 merged over 116 separate pieces of legislation under one act that protects the rights of citizens and promotes equality for all people.[184] The new law strengthened the protection of individuals from discrimination in a number of areas. It is designed to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. It covers a wide range of areas, including employment, education, housing, public accommodations, and the provision of goods and services. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of any of these protected characteristics. This includes direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimization. The Act also places a duty on public authorities, such as local councils and government departments, to consider the impact of their policies and decisions on people who have protected characteristics, and to take steps to promote equality of opportunity and to eliminate discrimination.[185]

Although the 2010 Equality Act is in place, many are pushing the UK government to put even more policies in place to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. One group in particular, "This is Not Working", acts because according to recent surveys done by the Women and Equalities Committee, workplace sexual harassment is still very prevalent, even with the current legislation. The movement pushes for even more employers to take responsibility and proactively prevent sexual harassment.[186]



In China, the 2005 Law for the Protection of Women's Rights and Interests of the People's Republic of China states "sexual harassment against women is prohibited"[187] although the law does not explicitly define what sexual harassment is.[188]

Sexual harassment is still pervasive within Chinese culture. A 2018 survey of female journalists revealed that 80% had experienced unwanted behavior,[189] and an online survey of college students from all 34 provinces the same year revealed that 75% of female students and 35% of male students had experienced sexual harassment.[190]


As of 2020, it is estimated that one in four women in Lebanon have been subjected to some form of unsolicited sexual advance, ranging from verbal to physical.[191] On 21 December 2020, the Lebanese Parliament passed a law criminalizing sexual harassment.[191] There was no national legislation to directly criminalize sexual harassment prior, with draft laws being proposed several times without effect.[191]


Sexual harassment in India is termed "Eve teasing" and is described as: unwelcome sexual gesture or behaviour whether directly or indirectly as sexually colored remarks; physical contact and advances; showing pornography; a demand or request for sexual favours; any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature or passing sexually offensive and unacceptable remarks. The critical factor is the unwelcomeness of the behaviour, thereby making the impact of such actions on the recipient more relevant rather than intent of the perpetrator.[143] According to the Indian constitution, sexual harassment infringes the fundamental right of a woman to gender equality under Article 14 and her right to life and live with dignity under Article 21.[192]

In 1997, the Supreme Court of India in a Public Interest Litigation defined sexual harassment at workplace, preventive measures and redress mechanism. The judgment is popularly known as Vishaka Judgment.[193] In April 2013, India enacted its own law on sexual harassment in the workplace—The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Almost 16 years after the Supreme Court's landmark guidelines on prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace (known as the "Vishaka Guidelines"), the Act has endorsed many of the guidelines, and is a step towards codifying gender equality. The Act is intended to include all women employees in its ambit, including those employed in the unorganized sector, as well as domestic workers. The Indian law does not permit the victim or complainant to take assistance of a legal professional in the inquiry, however, in Arti Devi Vs Jawaharlal Nehru University,[194] the High Court of Delhi permitted the complainant to avail the services of a counsel as her defence assistant.

The Act has identified sexual harassment as a violation of the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the Constitution; as well as the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment. The Act also states that the protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity are universally recognized human rights by international conventions and instruments such as Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified on the 25th June, 1993 by the Government of India.[195][circular reference]

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 introduced changes to the Indian Penal Code, making sexual harassment an expressed offense under Section 354 A, which is punishable up to three years of imprisonment and or with fine. The Amendment also introduced new sections making acts like disrobing a woman without consent, stalking and sexual acts by person in authority an offense.


The 1998 Israeli Sexual Harassment Law interprets sexual harassment broadly, and prohibits the behavior as a discriminatory practice, a restriction of liberty, an offense to human dignity, a violation of every person's right to elementary respect, and an infringement of the right to privacy. Additionally, the law prohibits intimidation or retaliation thus related to sexual harassment are defined by the law as "prejudicial treatment".[144]


SexPublic sign in Chiba, Japan, warning of chikan

The Department of Labor received 11,289 consultations regarding sexual harassment (approximately 60% from female workers, 5% from male workers, and 35% from others) in 2014.[196] However, given the generally low rate of reported sexual offenders (about 10%), the dark figure of sexual harassers is believed to be substantial, with 34.7% of full-time employees experiencing sexual harassment, according to the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training.[197]

It appeared most dramatically in Japanese discourse in 1989, when a court case in Fukuoka ruled in favor of a woman who had been subjected to the spreading of sexual rumors by a co-worker. When the case was first reported, it spawned a flurry of public interest: 10 books were published, including English-language feminist guidebooks to 'how not to harass women' texts for men.[198] Sekuhara was named 1989's 'Word of the Year'. The case was resolved in the victim's favor in 1992, awarding her about $13,000 in damages, the first sexual harassment lawsuit in Japanese history.[199] Laws then established two forms of sexual harassment: taika-gata, in which rewards or penalties are explicitly linked to sexual acts, and kankyo-gata, in which the environment is made unpleasant through sexual talk or jokes, touching, or hanging sexually explicit posters.[200] This applies to everyone in an office, including customers.[198]


In Malaysia, sexual harassment as defined by the Employment Act 1955 Archived 2020-11-11 at the Wayback Machine, is "any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, whether verbal, non-verbal, visual, gestural or physical, directed at a person which is offensive, humiliating or a threat to their well-being". The Act does not distinguish between male and female or employer and employee. As such, sexual harassment can be committed by a female against a male, or an employee against an employer.

Sexual harassment is common, and since 2010 trains on the Malaysian Railway have included pink-colored women-only cars as a means of cutting down on it.[201] There are also women-only buses in Kuala Lumpur since 2010.[201] In 2011, the government launched a women-only taxi service in the greater Kuala Lumpur area.[202] The taxis have women drivers, and operate on an on-call basis.[202]

New Zealand

In 2018, Statistics New Zealand published the Survey of Working Life findings, which queried employed individuals about their work schedules, employment circumstances, and level of job satisfaction and work-life balance. 9% of males and 14% of women reported having dealt with bullying, harassment, or discrimination at work in the preceding year.[203] Any invitation for sexual activity, whether direct or indirect, is considered sexual harassment according to the Employment Relations Act of 2000.  The individual harassing the victim may be a boss, an employee, a volunteer, a coworker, an employer's representative, or even a customer, contractor, or supplier who is not an employee.[204]

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, the duties of PCBU (person undertaking a business or undertaking) responsibility according to the act 36, subpart 2, Duties of PCBU is

·       “The provision and maintenance of a work environment that is without risks to health and safety”; and

·       “The provision and maintenance of safe plant and structures”; and

·       “The provision and maintenance of safe systems of work”; and

·       “The safe use, handling, and storage of plants, substances, and structures”.[205]

As per the Employment Relations Act 2000, it is possible for you to file a personal grievance. A worker may file a personal grievance against their employer. You have 12 months from the date when the assault happened or became aware of your knowledge, whichever comes first.[206]

Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Act 2023 and, section 54 amended states, an explanation in simple terms of the resources that are available for resolving issues with relationships at work, in relation to the 12-month period that must pass before filing a personal grievance under section 114(1) if the grievance relates to sexual harassment under section 103(1)(d).[207]

Human Rights Act 1993 under 62 sexual harassment states that, in the course of engaging in any of the activities covered by the provisions of subsection (3), it is illegal for anyone to ask another person for sexual relations, sexual contact, or any other type of sexual activity when doing so contains an implicit or overt guarantee of favorable treatment. During one's engagement in each of the areas where subsection (3) applies, it is forbidden for an individual to subject another individual to the conduct of the actions that follow:

(a) a conduct that is unwanted or offensive to that individual (regardless of whether that is communicated to the first-mentioned individual); and

(b) an act that is either repeated or of a significant nature as to negatively impact that individual in relation to any of the regions where subsection (3) applies.[208]


Pakistan introduced the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act in 2010. This law defines the act of harassment as. "[A]ny unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitude, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to such a request or is made a condition for employment." Pakistan adopted a Code of Conduct for Gender Justice in the Workplace that will deal with cases of sexual harassment. The Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) announced they would be working with the committee[clarification needed] to establish guidelines for the proceedings. AASHA defines sexual harassment similarly to the United States.[209][full citation needed]


The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 was enacted:[210]

primarily to protect and respect the dignity of workers, employees, and applicants for employment as well as students in educational institutions or training centers. This law, consisting of ten sections, provides for a clear definition of work, education or training-related sexual harassment and specifies the acts constituting sexual harassment. It likewise provides for the duties and liabilities of the employer in cases of sexual harassment, and sets penalties for violations of its provisions. A victim of sexual harassment is not barred from filing a separate and independent action for damages and other relief aside from filing the charge for sexual harassment.

Assistant Solicitor General Derek Puertollano was dismissed from service over 3 administrative charges for violations of RA 7877 "The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995" filed by a complaint from his legal interns. He was convicted of the grave offense of sexual harassment through unwanted touching of private part of the body, and the less grave offenses of sexual harassment through unwanted touching or brushing against a victim's body, and through surreptitiously looking at a person's private part. "These harrowing incidents left complainants traumatized, scarring them both for life,” said Lucas Bersamin in his decision dated February 20, 2024. Menardo Guevarra appointed an OIC to the vacated legal division.[211]

United States

Evolution of sexual harassment law


In the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin or religion. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 was initially intended to only combat sexual harassment of women, but the prohibition of sex discrimination covers both men and women. This discrimination occurs when the sex of the worker is made as a condition of employment (i.e. all female waitpersons or male carpenters) or where this is a job requirement that does not mention sex but ends up preventing many more persons of one sex than the other from the job (such as height and weight limits). This act only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.[27]

Barnes v. Train (1974) is commonly viewed as the first sexual harassment case in America, even though the term "sexual harassment" was not used.[212] In 1976, Williams v. Saxbe established sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination when sexual advances by a male supervisor towards a female employee, if proven, would be deemed an artificial barrier to employment placed before one gender and not another. In 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued regulations defining sexual harassment and stating it was a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the 1986 case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court first recognized "sexual harassment" as a violation of Title VII, established the standards for analyzing whether the conduct was welcome and levels of employer liability, and that speech or conduct in itself can create a "hostile environment".[213] This case filed by Mechelle Vinson ruled that the sexual conduct between the subordinate and supervisor could not be deemed voluntary due to the hierarchical relationship between the two positions in the workplace.[214] Following the ruling in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, reported sexual harassment cases grew from 10 cases being registered by the EEOC per year before 1986 to 624 case being reported in the subsequent following year.[215] This number of reported cases to the EEOC rose to 2,217 in 1990 and then 4,626 by 1995.[215]

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 added provisions to Title VII protections including expanding the rights of women to sue and collect compensatory and punitive damages for sexual discrimination or harassment, and the case of Ellison v. Brady (US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit – 924 F.2d 872 (9th Cir. 1991)) resulted in rejecting the reasonable person standard in favor of the "reasonable woman standard" which allowed for cases to be analyzed from the perspective of the complainant and not the defendant.[216] However, some legal scholars have argued this does not go far enough and that the reasonable person standard also needs to take intersectionality into account.[217] Also in 1991, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. became the first sexual harassment case to be given class action status paving the way for others. Seven years later, in 1998, through that same case, new precedents were established that increased the limits on the "discovery" process in sexual harassment cases, that then allowed psychological injuries from the litigation process to be included in assessing damages awards. In the same year, the courts concluded in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, Florida, and Burlington v. Ellerth, that employers are liable for harassment by their employees.[218][219] Moreover, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services set the precedent for same-sex harassment, and sexual harassment without motivation of "sexual desire", stating that any discrimination based on sex is actionable so long as it places the victim in an objectively disadvantageous working condition, regardless of the gender of either the victim, or the harasser.

In the 2006 case of Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, the standard for retaliation against a sexual harassment complainant was revised to include any adverse employment decision or treatment that would be likely to dissuade a "reasonable worker" from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.

During 2007 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and related state agencies received 12,510 new charges of sexual harassment on the job.[220] In Astra USA v. Bildman, 914 N.E.2d 36 (Mass. 2009), applying New York's faithless servant doctrine, the court held that a company's employee who had engaged in financial misdeeds and sexual harassment must "forfeit all of his salary and bonuses for the period of disloyalty."[221] The court held that this was the case even if the employee "otherwise performed valuable services", and that the employee was not entitled to recover restitution for the value of those other services.[221][222]

The 2010 case, Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. ruled that a hostile work environment can be created in a workplace where sexually explicit language and pornography are present. A hostile workplace may exist even if it is not targeted at any particular employee.[223]

From 2010 through 2016, approximately 17% of sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC were made by men.[224]


Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (United States) states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

In Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court held that private citizens could collect damage awards when teachers sexually harassed their students.[225] In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986), the courts ruled that schools have the power to discipline students if they use "obscene, profane language or gestures" which could be viewed as substantially interfering with the educational process, and inconsistent with the "fundamental values of public school education".[226] Under regulations issued in 1997 by the U.S. Department of Education, which administers Title IX, school districts should be held responsible for harassment by educators if the harasser "was aided in carrying out the sexual harassment of students by his or her position of authority with the institution."[227] In Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, and Murrell v. School Dist. No. 1, 1999, schools were assigned liability for peer-to-peer sexual harassment if the plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated that the administration's response shows "deliberate indifference" to "actual knowledge" of discrimination.[228][229]


There are a number of legal options for a complainant in the U.S.: mediation, filing with the EEOC or filing a claim under a state Fair Employment Practices (FEP) statute (both are for workplace sexual harassment), filing a common law tort, etc.[230] Not all sexual harassment will be considered severe enough to form the basis for a legal claim. However, most often there are several types of harassing behaviors present, and there is no minimum level for harassing conduct under the law.[97] The section below "EEOC Definition" describes the legal definitions that have been created for sexual harassment in the workplace. Definitions similar to the EEOC definition have been created for academic environments in the U.S. Department of Education Sexual Harassment Guidance.[231]

EEOC Definition

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims that it is unlawful to harass an applicant or employee of any sex in the workplace. The harassment could include sexual harassment. The EEOC says that the victim and harasser could be any gender and that the other does not have to be of the opposite sex. The law does not ban offhand comments, simple teasing, or incidents that are not very serious. If the harassment gets to the point where it creates a harsh work environment, it will be taken care of.[3] In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission produced a set of guidelines for defining and enforcing Title VII (in 1984 it was expanded to include educational institutions). The EEOC defines sexual harassment as:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  1. Submission to such conduct was made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment,
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual was used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

1. and 2. are called "quid pro quo" (Latin for "this for that" or "something for something"). They are essentially "sexual bribery", or promising of benefits, and "sexual coercion".

Type 3. known as "hostile work environment", is by far the most common form. This form is less clear cut and is more subjective.[110]

Note: A workplace harassment complainant must file with the EEOC and receive a "right to sue" clearance, before they can file a lawsuit against a company in federal court.[97]

Quid pro quo sexual harassment
International Trade Union Confederation (2015–2017)

Quid pro quo means "this for that". In the workplace, this occurs when a job benefit is directly tied to an employee submitting to unwelcome sexual advances. For example, a supervisor promises an employee a raise if he or she will go out on a date with him or her, or tells an employee he or she will be fired if he or she does not sleep with him or her.[232] Quid pro quo harassment also occurs when an employee makes an evaluative decision, or provides or withholds professional opportunities based on another employee's submission to verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Quid pro quo harassment is equally unlawful whether the victim resists and suffers the threatened harm or submits and thus avoids the threatened harm.[233]

Hostile environment sexual harassment

This occurs when an employee is subjected to comments of a sexual nature, unwelcome physical contact, or offensive sexual materials as a regular part of the work environment. For the most part, a single isolated incident will not be enough to prove hostile environment harassment unless it involves extremely outrageous and egregious conduct. The courts will try to decide whether the conduct is both "serious" and "frequent". Supervisors, managers, co-workers and even customers can be responsible for creating a hostile environment.[234]

The line between "quid pro quo" and "hostile environment" harassment is not always clear and the two forms of harassment often occur together. For example, an employee's job conditions are affected when a sexually hostile work environment results in a constructive discharge. At the same time, a supervisor who makes sexual advances toward a subordinate employee may communicate an implicit threat to retaliate against her if she does not comply.[235]

"Hostile environment" harassment may acquire characteristics of "quid pro quo" harassment if the offending supervisor abuses his authority over employment decisions to force the victim to endure or participate in the sexual conduct. Sexual harassment may culminate in a retaliatory discharge if a victim tells the harasser or her employer she will no longer submit to the harassment, and is then fired in retaliation for this protest. Under these circumstances it would be appropriate to conclude that both harassment and retaliation in violation of section 704(a) of Title VII have occurred.

Sexual orientation discrimination

In the United States, there are no federal laws prohibiting discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation. However, Executive Order 13087, signed by President Bill Clinton, outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation against federal government employees. If a small business owner owns his or her business in a state where there is a law against sexual orientation discrimination, the owner must abide to the law regardless of there not being a federal law. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws against this form of discrimination in the workplace. These states include California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.[236] For example, California has laws in place to protect employees who may have been discriminated against based upon sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. California law prohibits discrimination against those "with traits not stereotypically associated with their gender", such as mannerisms, appearance, or speech. Sexual orientation discrimination comes up, for instance, when employers enforce a dress code, permit women to wear makeup but not men, or require men and women to only use restrooms designated for their particular sex regardless of whether they are transgender.


Retaliation has occurred when an employee suffers a negative action after he or she has made a report of sexual harassment, file a grievance, assist someone else with a complaint, or participate in discrimination prevention activities. Negative actions can include being fired, demotion, suspension, denial of promotion, poor evaluation, unfavorable job reassignment—any adverse employment decision or treatment that would be likely to dissuade a "reasonable worker" from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. (See Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White.)[237] Retaliation is as illegal as the sexual harassment itself, but also as difficult to prove. Also, retaliation is illegal even if the original charge of sexual harassment was not proven.

New Jersey

New Jersey was historically known to have one of the strongest anti-sexual harassment laws in the United States. The Law Against Discrimination used to hold an employer liable if the sexual harassment was done by a member of upper-level management.[citation needed] In 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court modified the precedence in the State of New Jersey and prevented the company from being liable if they had a well-published and enforced anti-harassment policy. Accordingly, if a policy existed and was enforced, the victim or witness to the sexual harassment would need to complain about the conduct. The company would not be liable if they investigate the matter and take some remedial measures to make sure that the harassment stops. The company only becomes liable if the activity occurs again. (See Aguas v. NJ.)[238][non-primary source needed]


In January 2022, sexual harassment was made illegal under U.S. military law under an executive order by president Joe Biden.[239]


Though the phrase sexual harassment is generally acknowledged to include clearly damaging and morally deplorable behavior, its boundaries can be broad and controversial. Accordingly, misunderstandings can occur. In the US, sexual harassment law has been criticized by persons such as the criminal defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz and the legal writer and libertarian Eugene Volokh, for imposing limits on the right to free speech.[240]

Jana Rave, professor in organizational studies at the Queen's School of Business, criticized sexual harassment policy in the Ottawa Business Journal as helping maintain archaic stereotypes of women as "delicate, asexual creatures" who require special protection when at the same time complaints are lowering company profits.[130] Camille Paglia says that young girls can end up acting in such ways as to make sexual harassment easier, such that for example, by acting "nice" they can become a target. Paglia commented in an interview with Playboy, "Realize the degree to which your niceness may invoke people to say lewd and pornographic things to you—sometimes to violate your niceness. The more you blush, the more people want to do it."[241]

Other critics assert that sexual harassment is a very serious problem, but current views focus too heavily on sexuality rather than on the type of conduct that undermines the ability of women or men to work together effectively. Viki Shultz, a law professor at Yale University comments, "Many of the most prevalent forms of harassment are designed to maintain work—particularly the more highly rewarded lines of work—as bastions of male competence and authority."[242] Feminist Jane Gallop sees this evolution of the definition of sexual harassment as coming from a "split" between what she calls "power feminists" who are pro-sex (like herself) and what she calls "victim feminists", who are not. She argues that the split has helped lead to a perversion of the definition of sexual harassment, which used to be about sexism but has come to be about anything that is sexual.[243]

There is also concern over abuses of sexual harassment policy by individuals as well as by employers and administrators using false or frivolous accusations as a way of expelling employees they want to eliminate for other reasons. These employees often have virtually no recourse thanks to the at-will law in most US states.[244]

O'Donohue and Bowers outlined 14 possible pathways to false allegations of sexual harassment: "lying, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, psychosis, gender prejudice, substance abuse, dementia, false memories, false interpretations, biased interviews, sociopathy, personality disorders not otherwise specified."[245]

There is also discussion of whether some recent trends towards more revealing clothing and permissive habits have created a more sexualized general environment, in which some forms of communication are unfairly labeled harassment, but are simply a reaction to greater sexualization in everyday environments.[246]

There are many debates about how organizations should deal with sexual harassment. Some observers feel strongly that organizations should be held to a zero tolerance standard of "Must report—must investigate—must punish."

Others write that those who feel harassed should in most circumstances have a choice of options.[138][139][247]

Sexual harassment laws may also be used unfairly applied in effect. Unsolicited sexual advances were considered more disturbing and more discomforting when perpetrated by an unattractive opposite sex colleague than when perpetrated by an attractive opposite sex colleague.[248]

In media and literature

  • 678, a film focusing on the sexual harassment of women in Egypt
  • 9 to 5, a comedy film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, about three women who are subjected to constant bullying and sexual harassment by their boss.
  • In the pilot episode of the US comedy series Ally McBeal, Ally leaves her job at her first firm because of unwanted attention from and groping by a male co-worker.
  • The Ballad of Little Jo, a film based on the true story of a woman living in the frontier west who disguises herself as a man to protect herself from the sexual harassment and abuse of women all too common in that environment
  • Bombshell, a 2019 film based upon the accounts of the women at Fox News who set out to expose CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
  • Disclosure, a film starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore in which a man is sexually harassed by his female superior, who tries to use the situation to destroy his career by claiming that he was the sexual harasser
  • Disgrace, a novel about a South African literature professor whose career is ruined after he has an affair with a student.
  • The Fox television musical-drama show Glee deals with issues around sexual harassment in the episodes "The Power of Madonna", "Never Been Kissed" and "The First Time".
  • Hostile Advances: The Kerry Ellison Story: television movie about Ellison v. Brady, the case that set the "reasonable woman" precedent in sexual harassment law
  • The 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying deals with themes of both consensual office romance and unwelcome sexual harassment; one man is fired for making a pass at the wrong woman, and another man is warned via a song called "A Secretary is Not a Toy".
  • Hunter's Moon, a novel by Karen Robards, deals with a female's experience of sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • In the Company of Men, a film about two male coworkers who, angry at women, plot to seduce and maliciously toy with the emotions of a deaf subordinate who works at the same company
  • The AMC television drama show Mad Men, set in the 1960s, depicts sexual harassment and coercive behavior.[citation needed]
  • The Magdalene Sisters, a film based on the true stories of young women imprisoned for "bringing shame upon their families" by being raped, sexually abused, flirting, or simply being pretty, and subsequently subjected to sexual harassment and abuse by the nuns and priests in the Magdalene asylums in Ireland.
  • Les Misérables, a musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo. The character Fantine is fired from her job after refusing to have sex with her supervisor.
  • North Country, a 2005 film depicting a fictionalized account of Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., the first sexual harassment class action lawsuit in the US.
  • Oleanna, an American play by David Mamet, later a film starring William H. Macy. A college professor is accused of sexual harassment by a student. The film deals with the moral controversy as it never becomes clear which character is correct.
  • Pretty Persuasion, a film starring Evan Rachel Wood and James Woods in which students turn the tables on a lecherous and bigoted teacher. A scathingly satirical film of sexual harassment and discrimination in schools, and attitudes towards females in media and society.
  • War Zone, a documentary about street harassment
  • Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a military spokesman at Guantanamo Bay, complained that a reporter had been sexually harassing him.[249]

See also



  1. ^ Paludi, Michele A.; Barickman, Richard B. (1991). "Definitions and incidence of academic and workplace sexual harassment". Academic and workplace sexual harassment: a resource manual. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. pp. 2–5. ISBN 9780791408308.
  2. ^ a b Dziech, Billie Wright; Weiner, Linda. The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus.[page needed] Chicago Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-8070-3100-1; Boland, 2002[page needed]
  3. ^ a b c "Sexual Harassment". U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Archived from the original on 2019-05-13. Retrieved 2010-07-16.
  4. ^ Text of Oncale v.Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 528 U.S. 75 (1998) is available from: Findlaw  Justia 
  5. ^ a b "MacKinnon, Catharine A." University of Michigan Law School. Archived from the original on 2018-04-11. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  6. ^ Kamberi, Ferdi; Gollopeni, Besim (2015-12-01). "The Phenomenon of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace in Republic of Kosovo". International Review of Social Sciences. 3: 13. Archived from the original on 2018-10-03. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  7. ^ Rowe, Mary, "Saturn's Rings," a study of the minutiae of sexism which form part of the scaffolding of sex and gender discrimination throughout contemporary society; published in Graduate and Professional Education of Women, American Association of University Women, 1974, pp. 1–9. "Saturn's Rings II" is a 1975 updating of the original, with racist and sexist incidents from 1974 and 1975. Revised and republished as "The Minutiae of Discrimination: The Need for Support," in Forisha, Barbara and Barbara Goldman, Outsiders on the Inside, Women in Organizations, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1981, Ch. 11, pp. 155–171. ISBN 978-0-13-645382-6.
  8. ^ a b Farley, Lin (1978). Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070199574.
  9. ^ "Testimony given by Lin Farley", Hearings on women in blue-collar, service, and clerical occupations|publisher=Commission on Human Rights of the City of New York, April 21, 1975
  10. ^ MacKinnon, Catharine A.; Siegel, Reva B. (2004). Directions in Sexual Harassment Law. Yale University Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-300-09800-6. Archived from the original on 2023-01-21. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
  11. ^ Aron, Nina Renata (2017-10-20). "Groping in the Ivy League led to the first sexual harassment suit—and nothing happened to the man". Timeline. Archived from the original on 2020-09-29. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
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