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Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Unwanted sexual attention can occur in the workplace as well as in a school environment and can affect people of any age, sex, or race.

What qualifies as sexual harassment?

Sexual conduct must be unwelcome in nature to qualify as harassment. Unwelcome means that the person does not request or invite the conduct and views it as offensive or undesirable. Even if a person does not immediately bring up their concerns, it can still be unwanted.

The law protects victims of sexual harassment even if:

  • Nobody else saw it happen
  • The victim did not lose his or her job
  • The harasser is a coworker, client or other student instead of a direct boss or teacher
  • The victim sometimes submitted to the sexual behavior but clearly did not want to participate
  • The harassment occurred only once
  • The victim may not necessarily be the person harassed, but could be anyone affected by the conduct

If a person is sexually harassed, he or she should:

  1. Clearly say no. Tell the harasser that the conduct is not appreciated, or tell another supervisor or teacher who can take action. Sending a letter to the harasser can be effective, and the victim should keep a copy as well.
  2. Keep a record of the incident. Write down the date, time, place and what happened after being harassed, including what was said and if there was any physical contact.
  3. Talk to their employer if the harassment occurred at work. Companies should have a written policy against sexual harassment and a procedure for making a complaint.
  4. Consider filing charges. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to protect people against harassment and other forms of discrimination. There are also state and local government offices that handle discrimination complaints.

Students and employees should not have to deal with harassment and it should be reported immediately if it occurs. Once a school official is made aware of possible harassment, he or she has an obligation to report it to the police, or at the very least, keep a record of it in case of a repeat offense. Documentation of when and where an alleged harassment took place can help the Office of Civil Rights conduct a thorough investigation.

The best way to eliminate sexual harassment is to have a procedure in place that encourages prevention.  Employers should communicate to employees that harassment will not be tolerated and establish a complaint process that leads to immediate action when a grievance is reported.

References:

  1. CSULB Office of Equity and Diversity. (2005). Harassment   Retrieved from http://www.csulb.edu/depts/oed/policies/harassment.html

  2. Office of Civil Rights. (2008). Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Academic! Retrieved from http://www.leginfo.ca.gov

  3. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2002). Facts About Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-sex.html