Sexual Harassment 101
Unfortunately, sexual harassment in all its forms is common place in today’s society. In fact, according to Holly Kearl’s book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, 87% of women have experienced harassment by age 19. Despite sexual harassment being a common issue, it remains complex and confusing for some. This blog serves as an introduction to sexual harassment while providing resources for those who have or are experiencing it.
Sexual harassment is intimidation through comment or gesture, bullying and coercion of a sexual nature, unwelcome and inappropriate comments, or promises of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. Sexual harassment can happen in the workplace, in the general public, online and within relationships. This behaviour is used to enforce one’s power over others, is always unwanted, and is never a compliment. Sexual harassment is often gender-based and stems from power imbalances, gender norms, and sexist societal attitudes.
In the Workplace
Sexual harassment can often occur in workplace settings both between coworkers and from management. The power dynamics inherent to workplace structures can facilitate sexual harassment as well as make it harder to report. An employee may fear retaliation from the harasser such as losing their job, a reduction in hours, or being passed for a promotion should they do so. There is also the fear that no one will believe them if the harasser is a well-liked or powerful individual within the company.
If you are experiencing workplace harassment, there are options to report. Every workplace is required to have a harassment policy to address the matter internally. If your employer fails to take reasonable steps to resolve the issue, you can request support from Occupational Health and Safety by calling 1-800-567-7233 or make a human rights complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. You must still be employed by the company to file a complaint unless there is grounds for wrongful termination.
Street harassment (or public harassment) is any unwanted, and often gender-based, sexual advance occurring in a public space. Street harassment ranges from leers, cat calling, comments about the person’s body, and sexually explicit remarks to threats, flashing, stalking, or public masturbation, and can escalate into sexual assault. This is an act of power, not attraction, and is meant to make the harassed individual feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and unsafe.
The fear caused by street harassment often makes victims feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and afraid of public spaces which can affect an individual’s everyday behaviours. This could include limiting their time in public spaces, taking alternative routes to avoid certain areas where they have been harassed, and limiting their access to resources and opportunities.
Legal gaps in addressing street harassment make it difficult to report unless it has escalated into a crime such as stalking or assault.
Sexual harassment can also occur within relationships. In this case, the harasser may be a friend, family member, or romantic partner. Within relationships, sexual harassment is often part of an abusive relationship in which the harasser uses a variety of means to establish and maintain control over the individual. This could be done through unwanted advances, inappropriate and demeaning comments of a sexual nature, or intimidation.
Dating Violence: A Safety Plan includes a list of abusive behaviours and what to do if you are in an abusive relationship. For a list of resources and transition houses near you, visit https://www.sheltersafe.ca/
Online sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual conduct that takes place on any online or digital platform including through email, texts, and social media. This includes non-consensual sharing of sexual images or videos, threatening or intimidating language, sexualized comments, or coercion. Online sexual harassment can happen between strangers, peers, or romantic partners. This is an act of violence in which the harasser intends to demean, shame, or frighten another individual.
HearMob is an organization that provides support and resources for those experiencing online harassment including technical and social media safety guides.
Read more: What to do when you’re harassed online: Tips from people who have experienced it
If you have experienced sexual harassment know that you are not alone, we believe you, and there are resources that can help. Visit sassk.ca for a list of sexual assault centres and counselling agencies near you.
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