What is and isn’t sexual harassment isn’t a grey area. There are clear definitions to sexual harassment, although not all members of society are aware of the different types. Sure, most acknowledge the broad definition of ‘any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act by unwanted advances’ but how we outline what is unwanted and what constitutes an advance is important.
Here are the eight different types of sexual harassment one should be aware of, in professional and personal settings:
1. Sexual jokes
Some people enjoy making sexual jokes or bragging about their sexual prowess. Among consensual friends and done privately, there may not be anything wrong with this – at least from the perspective of sexual harassment. When done publicly or when you make a sexual joke outside of your close circle of personal friends, it’s one of the inappropriate types of sexual harassment.
2. Sexual imagery
Sharing any sort of pornography, sexual pictures of one’s self or someone else, sexually explicit cartoons, or other sexual images with someone who has not given their consent, this is sexual harassment. Consent is something to procure in every interaction, when it’s of a sexual nature. Social cues that indicate sharing of sexual imagery would be inappropriate should be taken.
3. Unwanted sexual comments
There is a time and place, and context in which a sexual comment is deemed appropriate. However, if you’re with someone whom you do not know very well, who has never stated or insinuated an interest in pursuing sex with you, or who has stated their desire clearly in not having sexual comments directed towards them, these are dynamics which should be respected.
All persons, irrespective of background or gender, should be allowed to feel comfortable in their surroundings. When a sexual comment is made that is unwanted, if this behaviour persists, it constitutes as one of the types of sexual harassment.
4. Unwanted sexual advances
The difference between a sexual comment and a sexual advance is that an advance involves making a gesture in favor of obtaining a sexual favor or gratification. Although some advances are welcome, when the environment isn’t appropriate or when the other person’s interest isn’t stated outright, this can set the table for an advance to be unwanted. We cannot emphasize enough the term ‘stated outright’.
Just because a person is flirting or wearing clothes one may deem inviting to sexual comments or advances, this does not give permission to make an advance. Unwanted sexual advances are never acceptable and a pattern of this behaviour defines as sexual harassment.
5. Uninvited touching
Sexual harassment can go from being comments and gestures into actual unwanted, uninvited touching. This is where consent comes into play. Unless a person actively and willingly gives consent to sexual activity – and it’s being done in an appropriate environment – it is never ok to assume touching will be accepted.
Consent is not assumed or implied, is not given in silence or should be interpreted in the absence of ‘no’, cannot be given if one is impaired with alcohol or drugs, cannot be obtained through threats, and can be withdrawn at any time. In a lot of environments where uninvited touching occurs, it is because assumptions are made and/or a person’s humanity is disregarded.
6. Comments about sexuality
We all have a sexual background and at times, comments directed at a person’s sexuality can create an environment that negatively impacts their self-esteem. Oftentimes, this can occur should a person define themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or asexual. Comments that demean, insult, or are meant to reduce a person’s sexuality is clear sexual harassment.
In most cases, a person does not need to make the intent clear that they do not appreciate such comments. It may be interpreted as an unsaid social rule that, in any context, comments about a person’s sexuality are inappropriate.
7. From a superior
Sexual harassment can occur in workplace dynamics including from a superior down to an employee. When it happens from a superior down, this is an abuse of trust, power, and an abuse of position – even if it’s unintentional. From an authority figure, an employee may feel pressured to respond positively to unwanted sexual advances or touching out of fear of losing their own position.
This is not the sort of dynamic any person wants to have to live and exist in. Even in consensual relationships sexual in nature between a superior and an employee, these must be tread carefully as to ensure one is never threatened with professional consequences or made to feel threatened.
8. Refusing to accept ‘no’
When you ask someone for a date and they turn you down, there is not a reason to ask them again. If you continue to pester them with repeated attempts, this is considered sexual harassment. It’s putting pressure on someone to conform to what you want from them, can be threatening or intimidating, and could make a person feel unsafe. Although you may see it as determination or persistence, one has to look at it from the other person’s perspective. It can be very inappropriate.