When Bad Behavior Becomes Sexual Harassment

by Institutional Equity

Sexual harassment is no joke. This topic is no longer off-limits, and allegations are being taken more seriously than ever before. But when does behavior cross from bad to unprofessional to sexual harassment? Is sexual harassment only egregious acts of physical touching or fondling? Does the behavior have to occur more than once before it becomes sexual harassment?

So often, recipients of sexual harassment talk themselves into believing it’s not a big deal with thoughts like this:

  • “Don’t be so sensitive. It’s just a joke.”
  • “That is a really nice skirt. Can’t you take a compliment?”
  • “Is it really that bad if they’re looking at you? Who doesn’t like attention?”
  • “Why do they have to hug me? I guess that’s just what they do.”
  • “The comments are not directed toward me, so I should mind my own business.”

Jokes, comments and actions can be harmful. Don’t justify someone else’s actions. What matters is the impact of their actions. When someone else’s behavior affects you to the point that it interferes with your employment and programs associated with employment, that is the point at which the behavior needs to be addressed.

Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex, including verbal, physical, written and visual forms. Employees are encouraged to seek assistance as early as possible to prevent the harassment from continuing and possibly becoming more serious. Whether you are reporting harassment directed at yourself, another employee or a student, the key is to report the incident(s) so any harm can be remedied, the appropriate University personnel can respond and University procedures are followed.

Don’t suffer in silence. There are multiple resources, so choose the one that best meets your needs:

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