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What are the Different Types of Sexual Harassment?

By Elizabeth West
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination using sexually explicit and offensive conduct, either verbal or physical. Different types of sexual harassment range from mildly offensive jokes to forcible rape. It can occur in the workplace, in school settings from elementary to college, or even at home, and affects both males and females. The primary goals of harassment of any kind are intimidation and control.

Workplace sexual harassment may include dirty jokes, sexist behavior such as winking or calling women names like "doll" or "baby," and continually asking for a date when it is clear the person is not interested. Many companies have policies against such behaviors, along with rules against interoffice dating to avoid sexual favoritism. All types of sexual harassment in the workplace carry the risk of lawsuit and termination. It is up to employers to make policies clear and provide a safe working environment, including protecting employees from any offensive behaviors exhibited by customers and vendors.

Men are less often victims, but they are also less likely to report incidents. They may fear being mocked or thought of as unmanly, since men aren't generally considered potential victims of harassment. Unwanted advances, sexual remarks, touching, and derogatory remarks about the male gender are common in sexual harassment of men. Insulting language like this on the job contributes to a hostile work environment. Males who harass other males usually do so in an attempt to embarrass and humiliate their victims.

In school settings, types of sexual harassment like being chased, physically groped and abused, or subjection to relentless name-calling can drive children to extremes, including suicide. Students have reported repeated threats and constant abuse by other students for being gay, or simply being accused of it. Their grades may drop, and they may be too afraid to enter certain areas of their schools. After a prominent lawsuit, the US Supreme Court extended the country's anti-discrimination Title IX law to protect students against peer-on-peer sexual harassment.

Dealing with sexual harassment usually means escalation to supervisory or administrative personnel. Children and adolescent victims often blame themselves for the abuse, which means they often don’t report it. For all types of sexual harassment, it is recommended to swiftly and firmly tell the harasser to stop. If the person does not, work or school policy then dictates what action to take next. Forced sexual contact is a crime and should be reported to law enforcement immediately.

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Discussion Comments
By JackWhack — On Jan 28, 2013

@Oceana – That's because some people are offended by jokes of a sexual nature or being called sweetheart names by someone they barely know. I suffered from workplace harassment at one job, and after that, I just could not stomach anything that even bordered on sexual references at work.

This guy used to call me “sweetheart” every day. This got under my skin a little, but it quickly progressed to something I could not tolerate.

He found ways to brush up against me when I was standing in a way that was clearly sexual. He would wink at me afterward.

I know he thought I wouldn't report it, but I did, and he got fired. Luckily, the security camera had picked it up.

By Oceana — On Jan 27, 2013

My husband had to watch harassment training videos with his coworkers before he started his new job. The company hired a bunch of new workers at once, and they all had to be told what exactly constituted sexual harassment.

I was a little surprised by how far it extended. They weren't even allowed to joke with friends or call anyone “baby.”

By giddion — On Jan 27, 2013

@DylanB – I understand that fear, though. If a person threatens to do something to the kid's family or pet, it is enough motivation for them to keep quiet.

I'm all for reporting sexual harassment to the police, but I think that you should also take measures to protect the people or pets that were threatened, because the harasser may not be arrested immediately. He or she could also get out on bail and do something awful, so it is best to be very careful.

It's a big burden for a kid to carry around. They feel like they are protecting the ones they love by not letting the act come to light, but in reality, they are mostly just hurting themselves and however many other victims that person might have in the future.

By DylanB — On Jan 26, 2013

It can be really scary for a kid to report sexual harassment by an adult. Often, the adult will tell the kid that something bad will happen if they report it.

Most kids are intimidated by grownups, so they believe them. What they don't know is that something really bad would happen to the harasser if the incident were reported, and he or she likely wouldn't get a chance to do whatever they had threatened to do to the kid.

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