What Is Sexual Harassment?

Find out what counts as sexual harassment – and what you can do if you’re experiencing it…

Sexual harassment can be a one-off incident or an ongoing problem. Most of the time people think of sexual harassment as something that happens at work but it can also occur at school, college, university or in social situations. Sexual harassment can happen online, too, through emails, texts and messaging apps.

What Counts As Sexual Harassment?

Any sexual behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable, intimidated or discriminated against is counted as sexual harassment. Unwanted sexual attention such as inappropriate comments, behaviour and touching are all examples of sexual harassment. Other examples include:

  • Comments about your body or the clothes you wear
  • Showing you sexual videos or content
  • Invading your personal space
  • Questions about your sex life
  • Telling sexually offensive jokes
  • Flirting or making sexual gestures
  • Pressuring you to do sexual things you don’t want to do
  • Someone exposing themselves to you
  • Staring or leering at your body
  • Touching someone without permission
  • Sexual assault or rape

Some people might think crude jokes are merely ‘banter’ but if the things they say or do makes someone else feel uncomfortable or violates their dignity or personal space, this is sexual harassment.

Being sexually harassed can be frightening and isolating for the victim. They’re often pressured into keeping quiet for fear of the repercussions, such as losing their job. This can make it difficult for the victim to speak up – and easier for the perpetrator to continue their inappropriate behaviour.

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone at any age and in any place. It’s never OK, and there is help out there. 

Am I Being Sexually Harassed?

Ask yourself if you feel uncomfortable with the other person’s behaviour. If the answer is ‘yes’, then something isn’t right. If you feel at all violated, uneasy or sickened by the sexual things someone is saying or doing to you, this is harassment.

Keep notes of things that are said and done that make you feel uncomfortable. Jot down the dates, the times, and what exactly happened. It can help to have a record of the harassment to support your complaint.

How To Stop Sexual Harassment

If you feel up to it, try pulling the person up and telling them how their behaviour makes you feel. Be clear and firm about what it is you find inappropriate – and how their actions make you feel. Hopefully, this will nip it in the bud and put an end to it once and for all.

If you feel too uncomfortable to approach the person, go to your manager, teacher or lecturer to get help. They should support you and take the appropriate action to deal with the situation. You could take a friend with you for moral support.

If nothing is done (and, sadly, this does happen sometimes), remember you have rights. You have a right to work and learn in a safe environment, free from the fear of being harassed. If the sexual harassment is taking place within the workplace, you can escalate your complaint to HR. In some cases, especially where more serious sexual harassment is taking place, you may have to contact the police. Find out more about your rights and get more support from Citizens Advice.

Sexual Harassment Support

Don’t be afraid to reach out and get the support you need. Speak to friends and family members if you feel able to or talk to Victim Support. If you’re in Scotland, click here.


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