What Is Sexual Harassment?
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Sexual Harassment - Types of Sexual Harassment and Its Prevention

Published on Dec 12, 2022 and last reviewed on Sep 08, 2023   -  4 min read


Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention or behavior. Learn about its types, prevention, and how it differs from sexual assault.


Sexual harassment can include unwelcome or unwanted sexual behavior, and demand for sexual favors. Sexual harassment could be verbal as well as physical harassment. Sexual harassment incidents and occurrences can occur in offices, public places, or even at home, by known and unknown people, and even by the partners.

Surveys and research conclude around 81 percent of female adults and 43 percent of male adults experience sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime. However, with increasing awareness, society has become more enlightened about the harmful impact of these behaviors on women.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome, offensive, and mind-disturbing sexual behavior made by someone in a position of power over another person. Such incidents include supervisors and co-workers who may have supervisory powers over the victim. The term "sexual" refers only to sexual acts; however, it can also include any verbal comments or use of sexually abusive language.

This behavior unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, causes an inability to focus on work, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment compromising one's career and success. These actions can create a hostile work environment if they are severe enough to make it difficult for the person being harassed to do their job. In such cases, it could create a hostile work environment that could lead to litigation.

What Is the Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment?

Sexual assault is being attacked and violated in some way, such as being raped or indulging in sexual activities without the victim's consent. In most cases, sexual assault involves when one person intentionally touching another person's genitals or other intimate parts against that person's will. It is a form of sexual violence that includes rape (forced vaginal, anal, or oral penetration or a drug-facilitated sexual assault) and child molestation. On the other hand, sexual harassment might be confined to actions that make the recipient uncomfortable. Sexual harassment includes verbal harassment as well.

What Are the Types of Sexual Harassment?

Child sexual abuse, domestic violence, elderly sexual assault, groping, and rape are types of sexual harassment. Types of sexual harassment at the workplace include:

  • Quid Pro Quo - This type of sexual harassment means "this for that." This type of harassment occurs in a workplace when a person of high power or authority demands sexual favors from a subordinate in exchange for an award (such as a promotion or increment, better shifts, favorable assignments, a guaranteed position, and job security). Only after doing so does the employer promise to grant the favor or to avoid some detriment (for example, termination, demotion) in the workplace. For instance, when a company boss threatens to fire an employee who does not indulge in coital activities (have sex) with them it is considered quid pro quo harassment.

Hostile work environments may go unnoticed and unrecognized as the occurrence and sexual acts may not be severe. However, some actions may be demeaning, acts that are not based on sex, and there may be long periods between offensive incidents. For example, inappropriate physical touching, sexual jokes or comments, repeated requests for dates, a work environment where offensive pictures are displayed, and blackmailing are behaviors of hostile environment harassment.

What Is Considered As Sexual Harassment?

  • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.

  • Unwanted pressure for sexual favors.

  • Unwanted physical touching (including leaning over, cornering, pinching, tickling).

  • Unwanted sexual looks or gestures.

  • Unwanted and constant phone calls and messages containing sexual content.

  • Unwanted pressure for dates.

  • Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.

  • Referring to women with names other than her own (girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey).

  • Whistling at someone.

  • Blackmailing calls.

  • Making sexual comments and spreading rumors.

  • Turning work discussions to sexual topics.

  • Sexual innuendos or stories.

  • Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history.

  • Personal questions about social or sexual life.

  • Sexual comments about a person's clothing, appearance, and body.

  • Kissing sounds, howling and smacking lips.

  • Touching an employee's clothing, hair, or body.

  • Giving personal gifts.

  • Hanging around a person.

  • Hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking.

  • Rubbing or grinding oneself sexually on the other person.

  • Intentionally standing close to the person.

  • Staring at someone and giving signals looking at someone with elevator eyes (top to bottom).

  • Unusual facial expressions like winking, pouting, pursing, or smacking lips.

  • Inappropriate body movements and hand gestures.

How to Stop Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that can cause damage to the victim's personal and professional life. Thus, it is essential to face the situation cleverly, raise voice when needed, take all necessary actions, and make the perpetrator accountable for their actions. Greater awareness of sexual harassment and more aggressive company involvement should help minimize occurrences of sexual harassment and the damage it causes.

Sexual harassment is not just about the physical act itself. It is also about the impact on the person and their mental health who experiences sexual harassment and other people around them. Once experienced, here are things to do to prevent sexual harassment from happening again:

  • Report the incident to the supervisor or human resources representative as soon as possible.

  • Talk about the uncomfortable behavior with peers and colleagues and let the concerned authorities know.

  • Make sure the company has a sexual harassment policy beforehand. Follow the rules, steps, and regulations for the same. If necessary, one could also file a complaint with the concerned authorities (HR).


Prevention is the best way to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. With zero tolerance towards sexual abuse, communicating with friends, family, partners, and colleagues helps reduce the impact on mental health. In addition, companies should train employees on how to deal with an aggressor, establish an effective complaint process, and take immediate action when an employee complains about inappropriate behavior; employers can prevent illegal harassment before it reaches the level of illegal harassment.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
08 Sep 2023  -  4 min read




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