When Is It Sexual Harassment?

It can happen to anyone anywhere: what begins as seemingly innocent flirting and glances finally culminates into aggressive, illegal advances known as sexual harassment. Both males and females are victims of this act, which can manifest either as a very overt act or as a pervasive tactic. People on the receiving end of sexual harassment face a mixture of emotions that range from anger, violation, and fear.

Sexual harassment is rarely limited just to two people, however. Many others often fail to report or take action against the harassment they’ve witnessed. Such participants are known as the “consenting party.” Because outside help can unfortunately be hard to come by, it is important to take the necessary steps towards preventing harassment the moment you start to feel uncomfortable. This can be done in writing, which allows you to succinctly communicate your issue to the necessary parties. It is important that you have proof that you attempted to communicate your discomfort about being harassed.

The law does not limit sexual harassment to acts that are deemed as sexual in nature. Offensive remarks about a person’s sex are also categorized as sexual harassment. Additionally, there is no difference in treatment between people harassing those from the same sex. In other words, a woman can be termed as a sexual harasser if she harasses another woman. The same rule applies for males harassing males.

It is important to note that not all actions are deemed as sexual harassment. If you welcome any advances made towards you, then under the law this is not seen as sexual harassment. Additionally, a one-time comment may not be seen as sexual harassment, depending on the remark and the severity involved. If the comment or action is made on a frequent basis, however, then this can be seen as sexual harassment.

The law only mentions sexual harassment in the workplace. This can be found under the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended. However, if you are harassed outside of a working environment and can prove that the advances were uninvited, severe, belittling, and repeated then you should take the necessary steps to guard your civil rights.

All employers must ensure that the necessary measures are in place to protect employees from sexual harassment. Complaints should be taken seriously and all investigation conducted to ensure that the complainant can freely voice their concerns to prevent future occurrences. Some people often remain quiet when they are the victims of sexual harassment because they fear the other party will take revenge. However, revenge is also illegal, and if it can be proven that the other party maliciously set out to “get even” then you may be able to bring additional charges against your harasser.

In a workplace setting, top level managers, clients, suppliers or anyone that is directly or indirectly linked to a company is not immune to the law. This simply means that supervisors, managers, and any employee guilty of sexual harassment can face criminal charges for their actions.

Is it Really Sexual Harassment?

It can be difficult to identify sexual harassment as opposed to polite advances. However, as pointed out earlier, if the actions are repeated and unwelcome then they can be considered as sexual harassment.

The complainant will find that the situation may get even worse after bringing the issue to those that can take the necessary measures to stop the harassment. This can lead to what the law terms a “hostile work environment.” This is an intimidating environment in which the complainant is victim of vulgar language, pornographic content, degrading comments, sexual touching, and any other action that places them in a compromising situation. If their career outlook is affected where they are demoted, not promoted, given less tasks, fired, or asked to resign then these actions are prohibited by law.

Where Should You Complain?

Often, the first place you should start is with the harasser—make it clear that you are not comfortable with their advances. If you are in a work setting, then the next step is to notify your supervisor or anyone in top management that can take the necessary action to stop the harasser. In many instances the sexual harassment will stop at this point, since it is likely that the employee in question will be disciplined through the appropriate channels.

However, it may not be that easy when the harasser is an influential decision maker in the company. If you find that communicating the details with the company has not been successful, then the next solution is to address the issue with a government agency. It is important that the agency specializes in employee related issues that are linked to equal opportunities and treatment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a good place to start. If all other channels fail, you can then file a law suit.

When Should You Complain?

You should complain the instant you feel your rights are being violated by another party. It is important that the necessary documentation about the people involved and the steps taken to handle the situation is presented in a clear format. You should not make it possible for your harasser to contend your account or cast any doubt on the details that lead up the harassment.


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