Sexual harassment is unwelcome attention of a sexual nature and is a form of illegal social harassment. Unwelcome sexua l advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment 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.
Sexual harassment can occur to men and women. In 2007, the Gender Equality in the United States of America of America Equal Employment Opportunities Commission received 12,510 charges of sexual harassment. 16.0% of those charges were filed by males. In Australia , nearly one in five complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 relate to sexual harassment. Over 28 % of women reported having had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, compared to 7% of men.
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CEDAW on Sexual Harassment
The United Nations General Recommendation 19 to the CEDAW 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.”
Examples of Sexual Harassment
The following is adapted from the US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission: “Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.”
Stalking, groping, and promising favourable treatment in the workplace in return for sexual faours are other examples of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can occur anywhere. In the workplace, sexualized environments are considered to encourage harassment, especially of women. A sexualized environment is one in which obscenities, sexual joking, sexually explicit graffiti, viewing Internet pornography, sexually degrading posters and objects are accepted as ‘normal’. Although these may not target a specific individual, they create an environment conducive to sexual harassment.
Effect on Victims
- Decreased work or school performance; increased absenteeism
- Loss of job or career, loss of income
- Having to drop courses, change academic plans, or leave school (loss of tuition)
- 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.
- 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
- Extreme stress upon relationships with significant others, sometimes resulting in divorce; extreme stress on peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues
- 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)
- Having to relocate to another city, another job, or another school
- Stress and anxiety; depression.
- Sexual Harassment Legislation