Introduction to Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another, when such conduct interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. While typically involving a pattern of behaviour, it can take the form of a single incident. Sexual harassment may occur between persons of the opposite or same sex. Both males and females can be either the victims or the offenders.


Sexual harassment results from sex and gender power inequalities between two people. This inequality intersects with other dimensions of inequality including race, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation.


Sexual harassment has a great deal in common with other forms of sexual abuse, whether it happens in conflict, the home, the street, the workplace or elsewhere.


In rooting out sexual harassment, it is essential to create a culture of intolerance with clear leadership that repeatedly and clearly speaks and acts against abuse and for victims.


Prompt, appropriate and publicly disseminated sanctions must be taken against perpetrators, regardless of their status or seniority.


If someone reports sexual harassment, it is important to recognise that they are helping to deliver an organisation’s commitment to equality and safety. They should not be pre-judged as untrustworthy or malicious.


Organisations and communities should create policies and practices, including training and educational campaigns, that recognise how inequality is constructed and the need to systematically dismantle these inequalities in order to transform cultures.


Multiple mechanisms to report sexual harassment should be available so that survivors can select the most appropriate method for them. These avenues should be publicised regularly.


Enable bystander engagement in any incidents.


Finally, it is important to recognise the harm and trauma sexual harassment can bring and structure all interventions to support healing and change.

Men, women and children can all be victims of sexual harassment. Not all men enjoy similar privileges or power, however, harmful masculinities pervade our social norms. Women can and do sexually harass. Not all men are sexual harassers, but most men are in a position to challenge abuse and hold perpetrators accountable.