What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment includes any unwanted sexual behavior—including touching or even making comments of a sexual nature. But sometimes the line can be blurred between teasing, flirting, and sexually harassing.
Do you know the difference between them? Take our sexual harassment quiz and find out!
Sadly, sexual harassment doesn’t always stop when you graduate from school. However, if you develop the confidence and skills you need to deal with sexual harassment now, you’ll be prepared to deal with it when you enter the workforce. And you might even stop a harasser from hurting others!
What if I’m being sexually harassed?
Sexual harassment is more likely to stop if you know what it is and how to react to it! Consider three situations and how you might deal with each one.
“At work, some guys who were much older than I am kept telling me that I was beautiful and that they wished they were 30 years younger. One of them even walked up behind me and sniffed my hair!”—Tabitha, 20.
Tabitha could think: ‘If I just ignore it and tough it out, maybe he will stop.’
Why that probably won’t help: Experts say that when victims ignore sexual harassment, it often continues and even escalates.
Try this instead: Speak up and calmly but clearly tell your harasser that you won’t tolerate his speech or behavior. “If anyone touches me inappropriately,” says 22-year-old Taryn, “I turn around and tell him not to touch me ever again. That usually catches the guy off guard.” If your harasser persists, be firm and don’t give up. When it comes to maintaining high moral standards, the Bible’s advice is: “Stand firm, mature and confident.”—Colossians 4:12, The New Testament in Contemporary Language.
What if the harasser threatens to harm you? In that case, don’t confront him. Escape the situation as quickly as possible, and seek the help of a trusted adult.
“When I was in the sixth grade, two girls grabbed me in the hallway. One of them was a lesbian, and she wanted me to go out with her. Although I refused, they continued to harass me every day between classes. Once, they even pushed me up against a wall!”—Victoria, 18.
Victoria could have thought: ‘If I tell anyone about this, I will be labeled as weak, and maybe no one will believe me.’
Why that thinking probably would not have helped: If you hold back from telling someone, the harasser may continue and even go on to harass others.—Ecclesiastes 8:11.
Try this instead: Get help. Parents and teachers can give you the support you need to deal with your harasser. But what if the people you tell don’t take your complaint seriously? Try this: Every time you are harassed, write down the details. Include the date, time, and location of each incident, along with what the harasser said. Then give a copy of it to your parent or teacher. Many people treat a written complaint more seriously than a verbal one.
“I was really afraid of this one boy who was on the rugby team. He was almost two meters (6.5 ft) tall, and he weighed about 135 kilograms (300 lb)! He got it into his head that he was going to ‘have me.’ He pestered me almost every day—for a whole year. One day, we were the only people in the classroom, and he started closing in on me. I jumped up and ran out the door.”—Julieta, 18.
Julieta could think: ‘That’s just the way boys are.’
Why that probably won’t help: Your harasser is unlikely to change his behavior if everyone thinks it’s acceptable.
Try this instead: Resist the temptation to laugh it off or to respond with a smile. Rather, make sure that your reaction—including your facial expression—makes it clear to your harasser what you will and will not tolerate.
What would I do?
TRUE STORY 1:
“I don’t like being rude to people at all. So even when guys kept harassing me, I would tell them to stop—but I wasn’t very firm, and I often smiled as I spoke to them. They thought I was flirting.”—Tabitha.
If you were Tabitha, how would you have dealt with those harassers? Why?
What may cause a harasser to think that you are flirting with him or her?
TRUE STORY 2:
“It all started with just a few sleazy comments from some boys in my physical education class. I ignored what they said for a few weeks, but it just got worse and worse. Then the boys started to sit beside me and put their arms around me. I pushed them away, but they kept it up. Finally, one of the guys handed me a piece of paper with a derogatory message. I gave it to my teacher. The boy was suspended from school. I realized that I should have gone to the teacher at the beginning!”—Sabina.
Why do you think that Sabina decided not to go to her teacher earlier? Do you think that she made a good decision? Why or why not?
TRUE STORY 3:
“My brother Greg was approached in the bathroom by another boy. The boy got very close to Greg and said, ‘Kiss me.’ Greg said no, but the boy wouldn’t go away. In fact, Greg had to push the boy away from him.”—Suzanne.
Do you think that Greg was a victim of sexual harassment? Why or why not?
Why do you think some boys are reluctant to speak up when they’ve been sexually harassed by another boy?
Do you agree with the way Greg handled the situation? What would you have done?
Learn more: See chapter 32, “How Can I Protect Myself From Sexual Predators?” of the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, Volume 1.