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Let's Talk Sexual Harassment

Caution: Links to articles and sources contain materials which may be triggering for some readers.

If you didn't know- I'm a lawyer. Today, I was reading a contract when I noticed a term which stated that if any employee of a company I work for commits sexual harassment, the contracting party had the right to terminate the contract with this company. That's right- this company reserved the right to cancel a contract that could earn them hundreds of thousand of dollars because they would not tolerate sexual harassment. As a lawyer I was initially surprised my company would enter into a contract with dramatic terms, but as an advocate I soon realized provisions like this take an important step in showing that sexual harassment is a serious issue.

Oftentimes, sexual harassment isn't taken seriously. It is often seen as women and men being overly dramatic or hyper-sensitive. However, sexual harassment makes individuals feel uncomfortable participating in everyday life activities. In talking to family and friends, I can honestly say that I'm not sure I know a single human being who has not experienced some degree of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment includes unwanted, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment also includes offensive remarks about a person's sex or comments which create an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.

The contract I read took this definition one step further and stated that the intention of the harasser was irrelevant and that the harasser's words or actions do not have to be motivated by sexual desire in order for the words or actions to qualify as sexual harassment. This is a critical distinction. I once had a classmate who would frequently use words for intimate body parts as an expression of frustration and would without prompting tell others about his sexual activities. While his intention was not to make anyone feel harassed, the behavior still made me and many other classmates uncomfortable. Unintentionally he was sexually harassing those around him. His actions were reported to proper school authorities. These authorities discussed his behavior with him and explained why it was inappropriate, and he stopped. The education provided by school authorities prevented future harassment from him and can do so for others. We must educate individuals regarding sexual harassment if we are to reduce rates of sexual harassment.

When you run a brief google search regarding sexual harassment, the majority of results discuss sexual harassment in the workplace. While this type of sexual harassment is obviously unacceptable, we must also discuss and end sexual harassment in everyday life. Due to the common occurrence of sexual harassment many women and some men fear participating in daily life activities, some so basic as walking down the street. No matter where sexual harassment takes place, it is inappropriate. Whether at work, school, social gatherings, familial gatherings, or even one-on-one private conversations, sexual harassment is wrong.

Society's acceptance of sexual harassment, like the acceptance of other sexual misconduct, perpetuates a culture which accepts more violent sexual crimes such as sexual assault and rape. Sexual harassment is extremely common, so much so that this behavior is often accepted and therefore some may not even realize they have experienced sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in everyday life takes common forms such as catcalling, spreading sexual rumors, using names for sexual body parts as expressions of frustration or insults, sending unsolicited sexual images, making sexual jokes, or asking or telling unsolicited personal details about sexual experiences or one's body.

While some of these may seem more minor than others, it is the acceptance of any and all sexual harassment which is problematic. Even some of the more minor or seemingly innocuous forms are harmful. For example, many women who have experienced catcalling can attest that often such experiences make them feel unsafe, intimidated, and prevent them living everyday life in a normal manner. No person should be made to feel unsafe.

If in a workplace or other professional environment, consider reporting the harassment. When you see sexual harassments with family or friends in everyday conversations, remind them that such comments or actions are inappropriate. If possible, support state legislation which includes sexual harassment prevention programs in public schools. By taking such action, we can and we will change culture regarding sexual harassment.

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