Myths

1. Sexual harassment cases always include male employers and female subordinates.

While sexual harassment cases are traditionally thought of in this manner, anyone can be liable for harassment, regardless of gender or job position. Victims are not necessarily always employees of the harasser, or of an opposite gender.

2. Victims provoke harassment based on their looks, clothing, and behavior.

Sexual harassment crimes are never the fault of the victim. Dressing or looking a certain way is never sufficient cause for someone to conduct inappropriate and unwanted sexual behavior. Research shows that sexual harassment crimes are motivated by power, not physical attraction. Victims range from various ages, ethnicities, dress types, and behaviors.

3. Harassment is motivated by a desire for sex.

Sexual harassment crimes are motivated by offender determination to exercise power over another person, NOT sexual attraction. This myth is particularly harmful because it sets the precedent that offenders only have reason to harass young, attractive women. Not only does this idea lead to “victim-blaming,” but it creates an invisible scale in which the attractiveness of the perpetrator and victim are considered before determination of guilt. This invisible scale does not exist. Sexual harassment is not an expression of sexual desire, it is an exercise of power, bullying, and force.

4. If you ignore it, it will go away.

Ignoring sexual harassment will NOT make it go away. Research shows that offenders are not likely to stop on their own; their behavior may increase. Victims must report and/or object to unwanted sexual behavior.

5. It is not sexual harassment if the victim does not complain right away.

Inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct in the workplace is always sexual harassment, regardless of whether or not the victim comes forward right away. While the incident may remain undiscovered and the perpetrator unpunished, the inappropriate behavior is still illegal.

There are many reasons why victims are hesitant to report sexual harassment. For example, many individuals fear of loss of employment, are embarrassed by the interaction, are pressured by the perpetrator to remain silent, desire to avoid conflict and scrutiny, etc. It is important to not discredit the stories of victims based on whether or not they choose to reveal the incident immediately.

6. Harassment requires physical touching.

Sexual harassment may take a number of different forms, including:

  • Gender Harassment: insulting and/or degrading sexist statements, including: remarks, obscene jokes and humor, pictures, graffiti, etc.
  • Sexual Bribery: Solicitation of sexual activity or other sex-related behavior, with overt or subtle proposition of reward
  • Sexual Coercion: Coercion of sexual activity or other sex-related behavior based on threats of punishment, including: performance evaluations, withheld promotions, and possible termination
  • Seductive Behavior: unwanted, inappropriate, and offensive sexual advances, including: persistent date requests, letters, phone calls, emails, or other invitations
  • Sexual Imposition: Forceful touching, feeling, grabbing, or sexual assault

7. A single comment cannot be considered sexual harassment if it is not repeated.

According to the Equality Act of 2010, a single instance or comment may be sufficiently egregious and offensive to warrant a sexual harassment case.

8. Sometimes sexual harassment is just an accident.

While many people dismiss sexual harassment cases as “miscommunications” between two parties, the reality is that consent is usually not complicated. The burden is on the instigator to make sure the other person willingly consents. There is neither excuse nor reason to proceed with the conduct if consent is not explicitly given. To assume that harmful sexual advances are “accidents” places undue blame on the victim and falsely assumes that harassers are unaware that their behavior is wrong.