Situations of sexual workplace harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Very generally, “sexual harassment” describes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual workplace harassment isn’t something that only happens in offices, the forms in which sexual workplace harassment expresses itself may occur in a variety of circumstances. The harassment can be found in all workplaces like schools, universities, hospitals, music and film industry, factories, stores, governments etc. And with the advent of the Internet, social interactions, including sexual harassment, increasingly occurs online, for example in video games. Unwelcome is the critical word because unwelcome doesn’t mean involuntary. It’s possible that a victim may agree to certain conduct and even actively participates in it even though the behavior is offensive and objectionable. That’s the reason why we have to place the experience of the victim in the center. Unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature is unwelcome when the victim considers it unwelcome.

Types of sexual workplace harassment
Basically there are two types of sexual workplace harassment, quid pro quo (meaning this for that) and hostile work environment.

The type of sexual workplace harassment called quid pro quo occurs when employees or students are made to believe that a decision depends on whether they submit to the conduct of sexual nature. For example, in order to receive a positive review on an essay the student has to be cooperative when the teacher asks for a date in return for that positive review. It is quid pro quo sexual workplace harassment when that employee who will only be promoted by a superior when engaging on sexual activities.

This abuse of power places a victim in the position of feeling humiliated and this will create a low self-image. They are being forced in this unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature to make sure they will pass an exam or to be promoted or even keep their jobs.

In my personal experience with sexual workplace harassment it wasn’t about maintaining my job or receiving a promotion, but it was about maintaining the jobs of all my colleagues and the existence of the company itself. Because the threat my employer used was that when his unwelcome conduct would be exposed his wife would leave him and with her the investment in the company made by his parents-in-law.

Many offenders of sexual workplace harassment use these forms of emotional blackmail to ensure their practicing sexual assaults.

When unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature effects the work environment we speak of a hostile work environment. Employers who sustain unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature by employees or even join them in this conduct are responsible for creating a hostile work environment. Besides unwelcome behavior there are some other aspects that can create a hostile work environment, think about areas that are poorly lit and out of side of other employees or the blind rooms that can be looked only from the inside. But also material like sex posters will create a hostile work environment. These examples create an intimidating, threatening or abusive working or learning environment. Employers are responsible to make sure the work environment is safe and healthy and that a company policy, that has to protect employees against any form of unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, is being maintained and will be disseminated by management and or stakeholders.

My employer openly -within the sight of all my coworkers- humiliated me with his sexual workplace harassment on a daily basis. To give you an example; one day a colleague needed my help to replace the toner of the copier. The toner was an extreme long fill and the copier was just outside the office of my employer. When he saw me with the long filler he ran out of his office to claim me with his humiliating joke on how I should be able to handle this long filler, and that this filler probably would make me very happy.

Sexual workplace harassment includes many things

So how can we recognize sexual workplace harassment in practice? The following examples of sexual workplace harassment, while not all-inclusive, will help you understand the types of behavior that are considered “conduct of a sexual nature” and that, if unwelcome, may constitute sexual harassment.


Comment about appearance, body or clothes Click to Tweet
Indecent remarks Click to Tweet
Questions or comments about your sex life Click to Tweet
Telling rumors about a person’s personal or sexual life Click to Tweet
Requests for sexual favors (this for that) Click to Tweet
Sexual demands made by someone of the opposite sex, or even your own Click to Tweet
Promises or threats concerning a person’s employment conditions in return for sexual favors Click to Tweet
Sex-based jokes Click to Tweet


Looking up and down a person’s body Click to Tweet
Offensive gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature Click to Tweet
Staring at a person’s body Click to Tweet


Sending unwanted emails or text messages of a sexual nature Click to Tweet
Display of sexual explicit material such as calendars, magazines, pin-ups or porn movies Click to Tweet


Physically touching, pinching, hugging, caressing Click to Tweet
Sexual assault Click to Tweet
Rape Click to Tweet
Non-sexual conduct

Non-sexual conduct may also be sexual harassment if you are harassed because you are female, rather than male, or because you are male, rather than female.

For example; you are a woman working as a carpenter (an all-male job) and you are the only one whose tools are frequently hidden by your male co-workers.

My employer used all these forms of sexual workplace harassment except the non-sexual conduct. In order to visualize these types of harassment I will share some of them.

Verbal: “You make me so horny in that black leader look pants.” Click to Tweet
Non-verbal: Making a face and using his tong to express his intentions. Click to Tweet
Visual: Text message: “I don’t like anal sex but for you I would like to make an acceptation.” Click to Tweet

Physical: He touched me all the time in the office and in public, because he saw something on my shirt. Or when I put something in the dishwasher, he laid his hand on my behind and worse.

IMG_2084Karin Bosman is Director of About Workplace Harassment (AWH), from the Netherlands international speaker, experience expert and politically active on this topic for more than two years. Speaks from her experiences and studies to encourage people to speak and stand-up against sexual workplace harassment by acting on it. She tweets at @AboutHarassment

Next week What causes sexual workplace harassment? Click to Tweet




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