Understanding Sexual Harassment

One of the simplest ways to explain sexual harassment, is to define it as any repeated, unwanted verbal or physical sexual contact, sexual advances or sexually discriminatory remarks. Such unwelcome sexual behavior can take place at work, in an educational setting or a social one. Despite certain legal protections, the boundaries of what defines sexual harassment are not always clear. Many people, mostly women, find that they have become victims of sexual harassment and do not know how to deal with it and what their rights are.

What Can Sexual Harassment Include?

Sexual harassment can take many forms including direct and implied harassment. It is something that is offensive and objectionable to the recipient and can cause stress, humiliation or discomfort. In situations where the harassment occurs at work, it can interfere with job performance and career progress.

Some examples of sexual harassment are:

- a demand for sexual favors accompanied by threats relating to job progress, academic performance etc.

- sexually related verbal abuse

- physical contact and advances such as touching, patting and brushing up against a person's body

- staring excessively at a person's body

- showing pornography

- physical or sexual assault

- showing sexually explicit pictures or cartoons

- subtle pressure for sexual activities

- non-verbal gestures of a sexual nature

How To React To Sexual Harassment

If you find yourself in a situation that has involved some form of sexual harassment, you should make your displeasure known immediately.  Sometimes offenders are unaware of how their actions are being received. They may be insensitive to the feelings of the recipient. Telling the offender that their behavior is unacceptable and unwelcome gives a very clear message that you do not want it to continue.

If the harassment continues, you should keep any written evidence that you have. In addition you can keep a record of the incidents with a list of dates, witnesses etc.

You should report the harassment to a responsible body if the problem persists. There are organizations such as the Anti Discrimination Commission that can give you guidance and support in this area.

What Not To Do

Do not invite the alleged harasser to social meetings, meals or parties after the offensive conduct has occurred. Don't flirt or use sexual mannerisms around the harasser.

Don't blame yourself for someone else's behavior and don't try to just ignore it. The problem rarely goes away if you don't speak out and tell the harasser that their behavior is unacceptable to you.

Don't try to handle the problem by yourself - ask for help.


Everyone has the right to go to work, school, university or out socially without being subjected to sexual harassment. It is a common reaction that recipients of such harassment are silent about the harassment or even polite to their offenders.  However, it is not a situation that anyone should have to put up with. There are laws that were created to protect victims and its worthwhile finding out what your rights are so that you can prevent any further harassment.

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