Workplace Sexual Harassment

Debunking the myths

Here are some myths and misconceptions about sexual harassment.

“Most sexual harassment is just harmless flirting.”
Flirting is mutually consensual behaviour in which both parties willingly engage in sexual interaction. If one party finds the other’s sexual behaviour offensive, but the other party persists it, THIS constitutes sexual harassment. This bullying behaviour is used by harassers to intimidate and humiliate their victims.

“Only women are sexually harassed, this does not happen to men. All harassers are male.”
While most sexual harassment is perpetrated by men against women, there are also cases of harassment by women against men and cases of same sex harassment.

“Successful and respected men do not harass women.”
Sexual harassment often happens when there is a power disparity between the two individuals involved. The harasser could be anybody – older or younger, single or married, of the same or from a different ethnic background, and of the same or different gender.

“All harassers hold senior positions to their victims.”
While sexual harassers are often in a position of power, cases of harassment by co-workers are very common. There are also instances of subordinates sexually harassing superiors, as well as harassment by clients perpetrated during work-related activities.

“People harass others because they are sexually attracted to them.”
Sexual harassment is NOT about sex. In many cases, it is largely about control and domination. Hence, in most cases, not being intimidated by the harassment and telling the harasser to stop is the most effective response.

“Some women ‘ask’ to be harassed by dressing or acting provocatively.”
This is an attempt to shift the blame to the victim, which is neither acceptable nor accurate. Women do NOT ask for unwanted attention. Studies have shown that women who dress conservatively are just as likely to be sexually harassed.

“Talking about one’s sexual exploits at work in a graphic way is not sexual harassment.”
Sharing one’s sexual exploits at work may be offensive and unwelcome by co-workers, and could constitute sexual harassment, even though it may not be directed at a particular individual.

“Sexual harassment charges are usually false in many instances.”
Making untrue accusations of sexual harassment and filing false charges provides no real benefits for people. Filing sexual harassment charges can be a difficult process, fraught with hostility. In fact, what tends to happen more often is that sexual harassment goes unreported because victims do not want to be subject to the difficulties and trauma of an investigation. Also, it is not uncommon for victims to experience retaliation and backlash in the aftermath.