By the book, sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual attention or advance. But what does that mean? It means that if someone is paying attention to you, like asking you on dates or saying things about your body or touching you in way that makes you feel uncomfortable it is called sexual harassment. That may seem pretty clear cut but it can be kind of difficult to tell the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. Here are some clues.
Flirting: Usually involves laughing, making jokes, perhaps feeling shy or nervous but also excited and happy. Is mutual- both people take part. Feels good to both people involved.
Sexual Harassment: Is one sided, only one person feels good or participates. Makes people feel uncomfortable, sad, or bad about themselves. Is unwelcome and unwanted.
So the biggest indicator of sexual harassment is how you, as the recipient, feel about what is being said or done. Sometimes attention that is exciting and good from one person is unwanted from another. If someone knows their attention is unwanted or unwelcome and they continue it is sexual harassment.
Some important facts about sexual harassment
- Sexual harassment is not about attraction or sexuality. Boys harass girls, girls harass boys, boys harass boys and girls harass girls. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation; it’s about making others feel small in order to feel powerful.
- The recipient of the statement or action determines sexual harassment. Tell someone if they say or do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. If they don’t stop, tell a trusted adult.
- Sexual harassment is against the law. You have a right to feel comfortable and safe.
- If you feel uncomfortable about the way someone is acting towards you it is not your fault.
- Telling someone about sexual harassment is not tattling. It is making the school or workplace safer and preventing people from getting hurt. Let’s face it, words do hurt.
Quick ways to tell if it’s sexual harassment
- Would I say or do these actions if an authority figure or adult I respect were here?
- Are my actions respectful of the other person? Are their actions respectful of me?
- Does this feel good or uncomfortable? Am I making the other person feel good or uncomfortable?
If you’re being sexually harassed it can be really difficult to know how to handle the situation. You might feel like it’s somehow your fault that you’re being targeted and that if you could just change something about yourself you could avoid being mistreated. Sexual harassment may cause you to want to skip school, avoid social situations or feel sick more often than usual. These are normal feelings but it’s important to remember that the harassment is not your fault. People who harass other people want to feel powerful and superior. It is wrong for them to hurt you. Sexual harassment won’t just go away. Even if they stop bothering you the harasser will probably start targeting someone else. Try to think of an adult you really trust and tell them what’s going on. Many times people don’t want to get the harasser into trouble but it is important for the person who’s harassing you to learn that their actions won’t be tolerated. You can also devise safety strategies with your friends such as someone walking with you to a class or eating lunch in a different place. Parents and teachers may be able to change your class schedule or locker.
There are also lots of things you can do to help your friends. Walking with a friend to class might be enough to stop harassment. Saying, “That’s not funny” when someone makes a rude or hurtful comment can also be very helpful and empowering. If you think someone is being sexually harassed you can ask them privately about it and then try to think of ways to help. You can also organize a group to educate other students about sexual harassment and why it is unacceptable. These are just a few ways to take a stand against sexual harassment.