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What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment issues first appeared in law in the 1970's, when women and their lawyers began arguing that various kinds of sexual behavior resulted in the exclusion of or discrimination against women. This was illegal because it violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. Courts began to rule in agreement with this position in the late 1970's.

In 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared that sexual harassment was illegal because it discriminated against women.

The EEOC also defined what constituted sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual conduct that occurs in the workplace or school.

The legal, criminal definition of sexual harassment includes unsolicited verbal, visual or physical behavior such as:

* Leering
* Offensive jokes
* Sexually suggestive gestures
* Pinching
* Hugging (or any other physical contact)
* Pressure (explicit or implied) for sexual relations
* The display of sexual images.

It also includes:
* Molestation
* Sexual assault
* Explicit violence in the form of rape.

Examples of sexual harassment:

* Expressly unwelcome and unreciprocated deliberate or repeated verbal comments of a sexual nature, including suggestive remarks and offensive jokes.
* Unsolicited and unreciprocated physical contact such as touching, pinching, patting, hugging or brushing against someone.
* An unwelcome display of sexually offensive or erotic images.
* Unwelcome and unreciprocated sexual teasing, including jokes, remarks or questions.
* Treating someone as a sex object, rather than an equal in society.
* Unsolicited, unwelcome and unreciprocated sexually suggestive looks or gestures such as leering, ogling and staring.
* Ignoring a person's skill, experience or ability, focusing instead on physical, gender-specific attributes. Sexual harassment is NOT:
It's equally important, however, to note exactly what sexual harassment is not:
* Compliments provided the recipient has raised no objection.
* Solicited or reciprocated flirtation based on mutual attraction.


Sexual Harassment Legal Status

Sexual harassment can be divided into two basic types, harassment that creates an unpleasant environment, and 'quid pro quo' harassment. Quid pro quo refers to the practice of offering employment or advancement in exchange for sex or sexual favors.

Harassment that creates an unpleasant environment can include behavior such as sexist jokes, repetitive requests for sex, inappropriate touching, continued staring, the displaying of pornographic materials, or anything else that can be proved to create a "hostile work environment."

Sexual harassment suits target the complainant's employer, so there are concerns that the accuser will face retaliation for accusing her superiors. For this reason, laws exist that protect the rights of an accusing employee.

Keep in mind, employers cannot fire or demote an employee because of a sexual harassment lawsuit. If someone has harassed you it's very likely they have done this to someone else also. Speak out as this kind of behavior should not be tolerated.


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