What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment.

Although sexual harassment laws do not usually cover teasing or offhand comments, these behaviors can also be upsetting and have a negative emotional effect.

What does sexual harassment look like?

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. The harasser can identify with any gender and have any relationship to the victim, including being a direct manager, indirect supervisor, coworker, teacher, peer, or colleague.

Some forms of sexual harassment include:

  • Making conditions of employment or advancement dependent on sexual favors, either explicitly or implicitly.
  • Physical acts of sexual assault.
  • Requests for sexual favors.
  • Verbal harassment of a sexual nature, including jokes referring to sexual acts or sexual orientation.
  • Unwanted touching or physical contact.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances.
  • Discussing sexual relations/stories/fantasies at work, school, or in other inappropriate places.
  • Feeling pressured to engage with someone sexually.
  • Exposing oneself or performing sexual acts on oneself.
  • Unwanted sexually explicit photos, emails, or text messages.

Where can I learn more about sexual harassment?

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.