Sexual Harassment: Things You Should Know

Is Sexual Harassment Against the Law?

Yes, it is!

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." (

When investigating charges of sexual harassment the EEOC examines each accusation on a case by case basis. All of the circumstances, such as the nature of the advances, the context in which the alleged incidents occurred, and if the incidents happened at work, they also look at the person's work record. Your employer can be held liable between co-workers if they knew or should have known about the harassment.

What constitutes Sexual Harassment?

Sexual Harassment can be any number of unwanted behaviors or conducts that make you feel intimidated, victimized, uncomfortable, embarrassed, and threatened. Whether the threat is genuine physically or perceived as a threat to your well being, ability to effectively work, go to class or just walk down the street. Sexual harassment can and does occur any place and occurs between male and females (sometimes the females are the harassers), males and males, females and females, there is no gender bias in harassers. Consider this: Our children and children all over the world are being Sexually Harassed! Sexual Harassment is taking place in elementary schools as well as at the University level. There are videos that have been produced for instructors to use at the schools that involve the students in order to educate them on exactly what is sexual harassment, how it happens and what they can do to stop it. "WGBY, TV, Public Television for Western Massachusetts partnered with Nan Stein, Ed. D. from the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women to produce this award winning, informative program on a topic no student, teacher, administrator or school staff person can afford to ignore. The program consists of three short modules and is specifically designed for use in 6th through 10th grade classrooms."(

Sexual Harassment Conduct/Behavior

Besides the obvious sexual misconduct of unwanted sexual advances, touches, requests for sexual favors, there is a list of other behaviors that can be considered sexual harassment, compiled by Martha Langelan in her book: Back Off! How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers

Some of the behaviors are:

Sexual harassment is unwelcome, rude and demeaning behavior and is usually about the abuse of power. According to the National Council for Research on women, "women are 9 times more likely than men to quit their jobs, 5 times more likely to transfer, and 3 times more likely to lose jobs because of harassment". (The Webb Report, June 1994) Although sexual harassment has no gender bounds, the majority of the time, the victims are women. There have been instances where a woman's job has been jeopardized because she is fired by trying to arrange her schedule to avoid the harasser. The 1994 Merit Systems Protection Board Study of sexual harassment noted that a woman in a traditionally male-dominated occupation such as construction, policing, and the military (see information on Tailhook) are more likely to be harassed. Other studies have also found that harassment is more commonly found in female-dominated workplaces where the majority of women earn low wages and the management is predominantly male.

Preventing Sexual Harassment: In the Workplace

Remember: your employers are responsible for the conduct of their supervisors and managers. They also have a responsibility to set up a comprehensive and effective sexual harassment policy that stresses the fact that sexual harassment is against the law! When the policy is finalized and distributed to all employees with a copy posted in a prominent location, the employer should also schedule workshops and seminars to promote company-wide knowledge of the program.

If you are harassed at work, Martha Langelan recommends taking the following steps:

  1. Do the unexpected. Name the behavior. Whatever he's just done, say it, and be specific. For example: Why did you brush up against by breast?

  2. Hold the harasser accountable for his actions. Don't make excuses for him; don't pretend it didn't really happen. Take charge of the encounter and let people know what he did. Privacy protects harassers, but visibility undermines them.

  3. Make honest, direct statements. Speak the truth (no threats, no insults, no obscenities, no appeasing verbal fluff and padding). Be serious, straightforward, and blunt.

  4. Demand the harassment stop.

  5. Make it clear that all women have the right to be free from sexual harassment. Objecting to harassment is a matter of principle.

  6. Stick to your own agenda. Don't respond to the harasser's excuses or diversionary tactics.

  7. His behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists.

  8. Reinforce your statements with strong, self-respecting body language: eye contact, head up, shoulders back, a strong, serious stance. Don't smile. Timid, submissive body language will undermine your message.

  9. Respond at the appropriate level. Use a combined verbal and physical response to physical harassment.

  10. End the interaction on your own terms, with a strong closing statement, "You heard me. Stop harassing women."

At that time, it would be wise to file an internal complaint through the appropriate avenues offered by the organization's policy. If the victim is a union member, reporting the incident to the union steward may also help. The Union has strict rules and limits on filing grievances: Grievances have to be filed within 6 months of the date of the incident you are complaining about. If the union seems to be uncooperative, within that six month period you can file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Documentation is the keyword. You should:

  1. Photograph or keep copies of any offensive material.

  2. Keep a journal with detailed information on instances of sexual harassment. Note the dates, conversations, frequency of offensive encounters, etc.

  3. Tell other people, including personal friends and co-workers if possible.

  4. Obtain copies of your work records (including performance evaluations) and keep these copies at home.

There are also legal remedies if you decide to file a complaint with an outside agency. Those procedures are also outline for you on the information for the feminist organization. The Url will be listed at the end of this paper for your information and use. I do want to reiterate that harassers can be of any gender and harass any gender. These suggestions are geared toward the protection of the female because of the unequivocal fact that most victims of harassment are female. If the harassment involves another gender, the statements will work just as effectively for a male.

Preventing Sexual Harassment: In School or University

"Sexual Harassment in schools is illegal under Title IX of the 1972 Education Act. This law applies to schools, colleges, and universities that receive any amount of federal funding. Title IX allows the U. S. Department of Education to investigate complaints, order remedies and withhold funding for any educational institution in violation of Title IX. The Enforcement is administered by the Department's of Education's Office of Civil Rights." (, pg. 7)

In the 1993 American Association of University Women (AAUW) study "Hostile Hallways", "85% of all girls and 76% of boys reported having been sexually harassed at school. But the impact on girls is far more devastating." (, pg. 7) Although most of the harassers are other students, 18% of the students in the survey said they had been sexually harassed by school employees. Children and young adults have a difficult time discerning the difference between flirting and sexual harrassment. This article has a checklist for them to consider.

If the harassment occurs in an elementary, middle school or high school the incident should be reported first to the Principal, if possible, if not the Vice-principal. Many young girls would die rather than to talk to a male under these circumstances; perhaps they can go to a trusted female teacher or counselor if one is available. If not, the suggestion would be for them to go to a female adult that can then go with them to see the person in charge. In college and university situations, the students and staff should consult their handbooks. The procedures outlined by the schools, colleges and universities for filing grievances should then be adhered to. If the problem has not been resolved satisfactorily within a reasonable amount of time, the victim should then report the harassment to the U. S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights at (202) 260-7250 (this is the phone and fax number). If criminal behavior has occurred, rape, sexual assault, it should be reported to the police as soon as possible.

Although this organization only shows four (4) help centers in the State of Missouri, there are many others listed in the phone book.

Suggested Readings and Web Sites To Obtain Further Information

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