Sexual assault and rape are, of course, are the most extreme examples of sexual harassment Rape and sexual assault are by their very nature, unwelcome. So, in virtually every circumstance rape and sexual assault are “sexual harassment”.

Other sexual conduct amounts to sexual harassment because of the circumstances in which the conduct occurs. For example, advances of a sexual nature become sexual harassment when:

  1. The conduct is done with intent to unreasonably interfere with one’s work– OR– creates a hostile work environment; or
  2. A request for sexual favors is an implicit or explicit condition of employment; or
  3. A request for sexual favors is used as a factor in employment decisions.

But not all unwelcome advances of a sexual nature amount to sexual harassment. Defendants in sexual harassment cases often defend sexual harassment claims by arguing that the victim “consented” the sexual conduct.  That is why saying “NO in clear, immediate and documented way, is so important.  Consensual sexual behavior is never sexual harassment.

A key factor distinguishing harassing from non- harassing comments of a sexual nature is frequency.  An isolated unwelcome sexual innuendo is much less likely to amount to sexual harassment than a pattern of unwelcome sexual comments.

Also, consider the setting. Comments at a bar on a Friday night with co-workers is much less likely sexual harassment than sexual comments at a work related event.
In addition, consider the relationship. An unwelcome sexual comment of boss to an employee (or teacher to student) is more likely to amount to sexual harassment than sexual joking among students or co-workers.

Sexual harassment takes many forms. Unwanted physical contact, inappropriate words and unwanted repeated sexual staring can all constitute sexual harassment.  The goal of this blog post has been to help you sort out whether you have been a victim of sexual harassment. If you still have questions: