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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Sexual Harrassment?

The Hill-Thomas case brought out the issue of Sexual Harassment. Which made men and women both question "What is Sexual Harassment?" Margie Harris an Attorney at Law, during a conference for Texas Association Against Sexual Assault broke sexual harassment into four general types.

1. "know it when we see it" - no disagreement of blatant harassment:
        - "sleep with me - if you want that job"
        - "sleep with me - or you'll lose the job"
        - "sleep with me - if you want that promotion"

2. the next tier of offensive conduct is physical contact: - touching - pinches on the buttocks - man putting his hands up women's shorts as they climb down a ladder, sticking his hand in a woman's blouse, forcing her up against a wall, or a table, and trying to kiss her, or fondle her - rape

3. sexual harassment that is less obviously unlawful: * suggestive comments "Hey baby, sure would like to go to bed with you" - whistles, leers, obscene gestures - even posters, calendars, "girly" magazines that are found all over the workplace

4. then, what should be called "gender-based harassment": - what academicians call Sex Role Spillover - the supervisors, co-workers cannot leave at the door their prejudicial attitudes towards women, the stereotypes - e.g. men who, in a social setting, treat women more as sexual objects than as peers and cannot leave that attitude behind at the employer's front door

Sexual harassment is a crime that impacts upon many, yet is rarely brought into public view. It is part of a continuum of sexism and sexual violence, which ranges from offensive comments and street harassment to sexual assault and rape-related murders. Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination in which women are victimized by those in positions of power through the misuse of social and economic resources; be it through the use of physical force or coercive manipulation.

In 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unwelcome sexual advances or other misconduct that create a "hostile environment" are sufficient to sustain claim of illegal sexual discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on discrimination on account of sex read:

1604.11 Sexual Harassment

Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Sec. 703 of Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute harassment when:

1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment decisions affecting such individuals; or
2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals; or
3) such conduct has the purpose or affect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

Many of the misconceptions about sexual harassment in our society contribute to the perpetuation of this crime. These myths about sexual harassment must be replaced with the facts:

MYTH: Sexual harassment does not happen, or does not happen very often.
FACT: An October 1991 NY Times/CBS New poll revealed that 4 of 10 (38%) have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

MYTH: Women invite sexual harassment, in its many forms, through dress and/or behavior.
FACT: Women do not invite any form of sexual violence. Sexual harassment is the abuse of power by the harasser with the intent of intimidating, humiliating and controlling the victim.

MYTH: Women misinterpret the innocent of complimentary actions of men as sexual harassment and "make a big deal out of nothing".
FACT: The October 1991 New York Times/CBS news poll found that 5 out of 10 men acknowledged that at some point on the job they have said or done something that could have been construed as sexual harassment by a woman colleague.
FACT: The Department of Education's Women's Educational Equity Act Program estimates that 20-30% of female students experience sexual harassment while in college yet only 2-3% ever report the crime to anyone. Survivors of sexual harassment are reluctant to report due to fear of retaliation, self-blame, shame and lack of adequate assistance.

MYTH: Women lie about being sexually harassed, especially for vindictive reasons aimed at attacking the accused.
FACT: This myth carries with it the assumption that women are inherently devious and deceptive. Women do not lie about experiencing sexual violence; based on FBI estimates only 2% of sexual assaults are false reports.

MYTH: Women, or men, who are sexually harassed are not really affected by the experience.
FACT: Survivors of sexual harassment typically experience fear, anger, physical illness, feelings of helplessness or low self esteem as well as interference with job performance or educational pursuits. Recovering from the effects of sexual harassment is a slow healing process.

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