You should be able to feel comfortable in your place of work or learning. If you are being sexually harassed, you can report it to the authorities at your job or school.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment.
Although sexual harassment laws do not usually cover teasing or offhand comments, these behaviors can also be upsetting and have a negative emotional effect.
What does sexual harassment look like?
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. The harasser can identify with any gender and have any relationship to the victim, including being a direct manager, indirect supervisor, coworker, teacher, peer, or colleague.
Some forms of sexual harassment include:
- Making conditions of employment or advancement dependent on sexual favors, either explicitly or implicitly.
- Physical acts of sexual assault.
- Requests for sexual favors.
- Verbal harassment of a sexual nature, including jokes referring to sexual acts or sexual orientation.
- Unwanted touching or physical contact.
- Unwelcome sexual advances.
- Discussing sexual relations/stories/fantasies at work, school, or in other inappropriate places.
- Feeling pressured to engage with someone sexually.
- Exposing oneself or performing sexual acts on oneself.
- Unwanted sexually explicit photos, emails, or text messages.
What is the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault? What about sexual misconduct?
Sexual harassment is a broad term, including many types of unwelcome verbal and physical sexual attention. Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior, often physical, that occurs without the consent of the victim. Sexual harassment generally violates civil laws—you have a right to work or learn without being harassed—but in many cases is not a criminal act, while sexual assault usually refers to acts that are criminal. Some forms of sexual assault include:
- Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape.
- Attempted rape.
- Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator’s body.
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching.
Sexual misconduct is a non-legal term used informally to describe a broad range of behaviors, which may or may not involve harassment. For example, some companies prohibit sexual relationships between coworkers, or between an employee and their boss, even if the relationship is consensual.
Where can sexual harassment occur?
Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace or learning environment, like a school or university. It can happen in many different scenarios, including after-hours conversations, exchanges in the hallways, and non-office settings of employees or peers.
What can I do when I witness sexual harassment?
You may have heard the term bystander intervention to describe stepping in to help if you see someone who might be in danger or at risk for sexual assault. Bystander intervention can also be a helpful strategy if you witness sexual harassment. You don’t have to be a hero to make a positive impact in someone’s life, and you can intervene in a way that fits your comfort level and is appropriate for the situation. If you choose to step in, you may be able to give the person being harassed a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation. Below are some of the steps you can take if you see someone being sexually harassed—just remember to C.A.R.E., and of course, keep your own safety in mind at all times.
- Create a distraction. Do what you can to interrupt the harassment, or distract those taking part in the harassment. But remember to make sure that you aren’t putting yourself in danger by doing this. If someone seems like they could become violent, do not draw their attention.
- Ask directly. Talk directly with the person who is being harassed. If they are being harassed at work or school, offer to accompany them anytime they have to meet with the harasser. If a friend is worried about walking alone to their car at night, offer to walk with them.
- Refer to an authority. The safest way to intervene for both you and the person being harassed may be to bring in an authority figure. You can talk to another employee, security guard, RA in your dorm, bartender, or bouncer, and they will often be willing to step in.
- Enlist others. It can be hard to step in alone, especially if you are worried about your own safety or if you don’t think you will be able to help on your own. It may be a good idea to enlist the help of a friend or another bystander.
What are some effects of sexual harassment?
Experiencing sexual harassment may cause some survivors to face emotional, physical, or mental health concerns. Some of them might include:
Women, Authoritarianism, and Social Movements
Acknowledging and integrating women’s insights, experiences, and capabilities into all aspects of peace processes and security efforts is vital in building a more gender-equitable world. Research shows the ways in which women’s participation in resistance movements can lead to more sustainable negotiated settlements and more durable democracy after civil wars.
Unfortunately, women’s political and economic empowerment is now stalling or declining around the world. According to Georgetown University’s Women, Peace, and Security Index, the implementation of gender equality laws has slowed in recent years, as have gains in women’s educational attainment and representation in national parliaments. How can we protect and expand women’s rights and freedoms essential for effective peacekeeping?
Types of violence against children
Most violence against children involves at least one of six main types of interpersonal violence that tend to occur at different stages in a child’s development.
- Maltreatment (including violent punishment) involves physical, sexual and psychological/emotional violence; and neglect of infants, children and adolescents by parents, caregivers and other authority figures, most often in the home but also in settings such as schools and orphanages.
- Bullying (including cyber-bullying) is unwanted aggressive behaviour by another child or group of children who are neither siblings nor in a romantic relationship with the victim. It involves repeated physical, psychological or social harm, and often takes place in schools and other settings where children gather, and online.
- Youth violence is concentrated among children and young adults aged 10–29 years, occurs most often in community settings between acquaintances and strangers, includes bullying and physical assault with or without weapons (such as guns and knives), and may involve gang violence.
- Intimate partner violence (or domestic violence) involves physical, sexual and emotional violence by an intimate partner or ex-partner. Although males can also be victims, intimate partner violence disproportionately affects females. It commonly occurs against girls within child marriages and early/forced marriages. Among romantically involved but unmarried adolescents it is sometimes called “dating violence”.
- Sexual violence includes non-consensual completed or attempted sexual contact and acts of a sexual nature not involving contact (such as voyeurism or sexual harassment); acts of sexual trafficking committed against someone who is unable to consent or refuse; and online exploitation.
- Emotional or psychological violence includes restricting a child’s movements, denigration, ridicule, threats and intimidation, discrimination, rejection and other non-physical forms of hostile treatment.
When directed against girls or boys because of their biological sex or gender identity, any of these types of violence can also constitute gender-based violence.
Impact of violence
Violence against children has lifelong impacts on health and well-being of children, families, communities, and nations. Violence against children can:
- Result in death. Homicide, which often involves weapons such as knives and firearms, is among the top four causes of death in adolescents, with boys comprising over 80% of victims and perpetrators.
- Lead to severe injuries. For every homicide, there are hundreds of predominantly male victims of youth violence who sustain injuries because of physical fighting and assault.
- Impair brain and nervous system development. Exposure to violence at an early age can impair brain development and damage other parts of the nervous system, as well as the endocrine, circulatory, musculoskeletal, reproductive, respiratory and immune systems, with lifelong consequences. As such, violence against children can negatively affect cognitive development and results in educational and vocational under-achievement.
- Result in negative coping and health risk behaviours. Children exposed to violence and other adversities are substantially more likely to smoke, misuse alcohol and drugs, and engage in high-risk sexual behaviour. They also have higher rates of anxiety, depression, other mental health problems and suicide.
- Lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynaecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
- Contribute to a wide range of non-communicable diseases as children grow older. The increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions is largely due to the negative coping and health risk behaviours associated with violence.
- Impact opportunities and future generations. Children exposed to violence and other adversities are more likely to drop out of school, have difficulty finding and keeping a job, and are at heightened risk for later victimization and/or perpetration of interpersonal and self-directed violence, by which violence against children can affect the next generation.
Violence against children is a multifaceted problem with causes at the individual, close relationship, community and societal levels. Important risk factors are:
- biological and personal aspects such as sex and age
- lower levels of education
- low income
- having a disability or mental health problems
- identifying as or being identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
- harmful use of alcohol and drugs
- a history of exposure to violence.
- lack of emotional bonding between children and parents or caregivers
- poor parenting practices
- family dysfunction and separation
- being associated with delinquent peers
- witnessing violence between parents or caregivers
- early or forced marriage.
- high population density
- low social cohesion and transient populations
- easy access to alcohol and firearms
- high concentrations of gangs and illicit drug dealing.
- social and gender norms that create a climate in which violence is normalized
- health, economic, educational and social policies that maintain economic, gender and social inequalities
- absent or inadequate social protection
- post-conflict situations or natural disaster
- settings with weak governance and poor law enforcement.
Prevention and response
Violence against children can be prevented. Preventing and responding to violence against children requires that efforts systematically address risk and protective factors at all four interrelated levels of risk (individual, relationship, community, society).
Under the leadership of WHO, a group of 10 international agencies have developed and endorsed an evidence-based technical package called INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children. The package aims to help countries and communities achieve SDG Target 16.2 on ending violence against children. Each letter of the word INSPIRE stands for one of the strategies, and most have been shown to have preventive effects across several different types of violence, as well as benefits in areas such as mental health, education and crime reduction.
The seven strategies are:
- Implementation and enforcement of laws (for example, banning violent discipline and restricting access to alcohol and firearms);
- Norms and values change (for example, altering norms that condone the sexual abuse of girls or aggressive behaviour among boys);
- Safe environments (such as identifying neighbourhood “hot spots” for violence and then addressing the local causes through problem-oriented policing and other interventions);
- Parental and caregiver support (for example, providing parent training to young, first time parents);
- Income and economic strengthening (such as microfinance and gender equity training);
- Response services provision (for example, ensuring that children who are exposed to violence can access effective emergency care and receive appropriate psychosocial support); and
- Education and life skills (such as ensuring that children attend school, and providing life and social skills training).
A May 2016 World Health Assembly resolution endorsed the first ever WHO Global plan of action on strengthening the role of the health system within a national multisectoral response to address interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children.
According to this plan, WHO in collaboration with Member States and other partners, is committed to:
- Monitoring the global magnitude and characteristics of violence against children and supporting country efforts to document and measure such violence.
- Maintaining an electronic information system that summarizes the scientific data on the burden, risk factors and consequences of violence against children, and the evidence for its preventability.
- Developing and disseminating evidence-based technical guidance documents, norms and standards for preventing and responding to violence against children.
- Regularly publishing global status reports on country efforts to address violence against children through national policies and action plans, laws, prevention programmes and response services.
- Supporting countries and partners in implementing evidence-based prevention and response strategies, such as those included in INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children.
- Collaborating with international agencies and organizations to reduce and eliminate violence against children globally, through initiatives such as the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, Together for Girls and the Violence Prevention Alliance.
(1) Global prevalence of past-year violence against children: a systematic review and minimum estimates. Hillis S, Mercy J, Amobi A, Kress H. Pediatrics 2016; 137(3): e20154079.