Harassment Of Children & Teens
Harassment has both physical and emotional effects. Some 48 percent of middle and high school reported being targets of sexual harassment, with many not wanting to go to school, feeling physically ill, and having trouble studying and sleeping, according to 2011 study results reported by the American Association of University Women.
Legal Definitions and Types of Harassment
Most people know when they feel violated, but giving it a formal definition is a lot harder—and knowing what to do about it can be even tougher. Victims may understandably feel reluctant to take the next step to report harassment and prevent future occurrences. But understanding different types of harassment, and how the law views various circumstances can be empowering. Take a look at some of the legal definitions below if you’re dealing with harassment at work or school.
This is generally a type of criminal harassment. Examples include when a school or workplace denies a person’s right to reasonable accommodations, or allows abusive or derogatory comments about a person to persist. These create a hostile environment and can be considered harassment.
Civil harassment is as valid as criminal harassment, but is defined differently because it falls outside federal or state laws that protect certain classes. For instance, somebody being degraded at work because of their clothes (as long as the clothes are not tied to their religion or ethnicity) could claim civil harassment.
Retaliation can occur when somebody speaks out about harassment or other perceived injustices. The person who speaks out may experience various types of punishment, like harsher job duties, reduced shifts and abuse from coworkers or peers. While victims are technically protected from retaliation, it can be difficult to prove and enforce, so many people will experience it anyway.
Quid Pro Quo
This term, which means “something for something,” describes expectations put on someone in exchange for something else, which in some cases can be illegal. For example, a common example of quid pro quo harassment is a work superior offering a promotion in exchange for sexual favors; however, quid pro quo is not always of a sexual nature.
Certain classes and characteristics—including race, national origin, color, religion, sex, age or disability—are protected against harassment under federal law. Violations that occur specifically based on these categories are considered instances of criminal harassment.
Sexual harassment falls under civil harassment and includes any harassment based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or pregnancy status.
Is it Harassment, or Just Bad Behavior?
Harassment is so ingrained in our culture, from showing admiration to womanizing protagonists of old Hollywood movies to exchanging crude jokes as a way of showing camaraderie, that the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior can be blurry. Many argue that if it feels like harassment, it probably is, but social practices–and the law–don’t always agree. However, a growing awareness of the problem is leading to victims of harassment to be more outspoken, and making it easier for businesses and organizations to make concrete efforts to address harassment through stronger policies.
Behavior You Might Not Think Is Harassment, That Actually Is
Snapping a girl’s bra straps to get her attention, intimidate or flirt with her.
Whether it’s done to pick on someone or flirt, this common form of physical harassment often happens in schools.
Making race-based jokes or comments around your friends of that race.
This is so common it’s often referred to as everyday bigotry; your friends may seem to laugh it off, but it still may qualify as harassment.
Repeatedly asking to get coffee or lunch.
You may want to get to know a classmate or co-worker better, either in a romantic or platonic way, but badgering that person for a date or get-together after they’ve turned you down is grounds for sexual harassment. One law firm suggests a “one strike and you’re out” rule—don’t ask again if a co-worker has said “no thanks”.
“Stirring the pot” at work.
Participating in political discussions or conversations about hot-button issues to deliberately get a rise out of someone, especially if the issue in question directly affects that person (e.g., telling your transgender co-worker that you think that gender-neutral bathrooms are unnecessary) makes for a hostile work environment.
Lingering when giving hugs or handshakes, or giving unwelcome kisses.
While some people are not bothered by a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or a touch to the shoulder, arm or back, others find this physical contact unwelcome and unwanted.
Imitating friends, classmates or coworkers by evoking an accent.
Like making race-based jokes, to caricature people by using a fake accent can be harassment falling under National Origin Discrimination, even if it’s not intended to be hateful.
Giving unprompted wardrobe advice.
Whether intended to be helpful or passive-aggressive, suggesting a person dress or do their hair and makeup differently can be viewed variously as a sexual advance or an attack on their race, culture, gender or income level. Unless someone explicitly asks for your opinion, keep it to yourself.
Gossiping and spreading rumors about someone.
Schools and workplaces can be so filled with gossip that it may seem harmless; however, gossip and rumors can affect a person’s ability to feel safe, welcomed and productive. Gossiping can be considered harassment.
Making sexual jokes or innuendo.
Many types of harassment stem from jokes, but you shouldn’t assume that everyone has the same sense of humor. Sexual jokes and references can be offensive or uncomfortable, dredge up past traumatic experiences, and highlight disparities between people of different sexes and genders, and a 2017 New York Times survey shows these jokes are the most prevalent type of harassing behavior men participate in at work.
Openly displaying offensive or derogatory materials.
Putting in plain sight pictures or literature that make people feel unwelcome or unsafe–like pornographic photos, pamphlets promoting religion or anything that suggest an inferiority of certain races, religions, genders, sexual orientations and identities or cultures–creates a hostile environment and may be construed as harassment.
Exploiting customer-worker power imbalance.
“The customer is always right” is a common phrase in workplaces, but it isn’t true. Workers often feel powerless when customers harass them, because they feel that speaking out could cause a scene or risk their job. However, if a customer harasses an employee, the employer is required to investigate and resolve the situation.
Addressing Harassment in the Workplace
Harassment at work is prevalent and can be tough to combat. Being informed and prepared can help employees dealing with harassment recognize their rights and take action when needed. In some work environments, harassment may seem easy to brush off as playful camaraderie or “playing the game”, but it is no less serious than more direct, explicit bullying. Negative actions are often prompted by a harasser’s feelings of fear, disrespect or entitlement, but no matter the reasons, the only way to end workplace harassment is to properly address it.
Harassment Reporting In The Workplace
While many people experience harassment at work, very few report incidents to their superiors. Nearly a third of the 90,000 discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015 related specifically to workplace harassment, yet only one in four employees talked to a higher-up about their harassment experience.
The Culture Of Workplace Harassment
Workplace harassment cases are thrust into the media spotlight every few years and span every industry, from the auto-makers of the Midwest to Hollywood’s biggest entertainers. Even so, workplace harassment is an issue that continually lingers. We explore some of the possible reasons why harassment culture is hard to change, with resources to help make progress below.
Even when complaints are sent to the human resources department, a company’s CEO(s) may never be informed about an issue.
Moreover, top management may ignore or excuse the problem among themselves. However, the ability to hold a CEO or company executive accountable may be the difference in proving whether or not a victim can legally claim a hostile work environment.
The workplace doesn’t have a formal HR department or harassment policy.
Some companies lack departments dedicated to helping employees stay safe and informed of workplace policies and procedures. Likewise, not all workplaces have formal harassment policies in place, which can make identifying and reporting harassment incidents a confusing process. When harassment is clearly defined, more people report it.
Lack of workplace diversity limits solidarity between employees and makes confronting harassment difficult.
Many workplaces struggle to foster diversity among their employees. Minority employees may have few co-workers who can understand their position and provide empathy and solidarity, and if they experience harassment they may have a particularly difficult time convincing others to care about the issue.
Harassment training is not required or is not comprehensive.
While requiring all employees to complete harassment training can go a long way toward both protecting employees from harassment and safeguarding companies against claims, it’s not uncommon for high-ranking employees to skip out on training or employees to simply brush off or rush through training exercises. In some instances, even when everyone does attend training, the classes aren’t in-depth enough or don’t cover a wide range of issues, though some states are adopting requirements to include the harassment of queer or gender-nonconforming employees.
Victims need their jobs, so they don’t feel they can speak up.
For many victims, the prospect of losing their jobs is not worth the risk—especially when it’s coupled with the time and energy it takes to file a claim that’s may or may not yield a positive result. Victims often feel enduring harassment at work is simply easier and more practical than speaking out against it.
Know Your Rights
Some workplaces are supportive of employee rights and strive to fix harassment problems. Others dissuade victims from reporting incidents to avoid scandals or the costs of internal investigations, and may deliberately deter the steps employees can take to remedy their situations. Know your rights and protections so you can successfully handle harassment incidents that may come up at work.
You have the right to feel safe at work, regardless of your sex, race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, age, disability or genetic information.
The U.S. government says petty comments and annoyances aren’t typically considered harassment, but a pattern that causes feelings of intimidation, or even isolated incidents that are severe, may be reasonably considered harassment.
There are protections against retaliation if you report harassment.
Employees who file a harassment claim, or assist in the investigation of one, cannot legally be harassed or punished for doing so. While this doesn’t always work out in reality, those who do experience retaliation have the recourse of filing additional claims against their employer.
You cannot be denied reasonable accommodation at work for your religion or disability.
Except under certain circumstances when providing accommodation would be extremely costly to the employer, a workplace must give all employees, regardless of their disability status (or that of their partner) or religious obligations, the same opportunities to work safely and effectively.
Superiors and co-workers cannot give favors for sexual acts.
This exchange is known as quid pro quo, and is a type of federally protected sexual harassment. Workers are also protected from employer punishment for refusing to engage in the exchange.
What To Do If You Want To Report
Harassment victims who report their situation do so because they believe a resolution is on the way. But workplaces often let harassment victims down, allowing legal loopholes and workplace politics to turn what seems like an obvious solution into an issue that never gets acted upon. Taking the proper steps to address harassment can make all the difference in seeing meaningful results.
Make sure your situation meets the legal definition of harassment.
Even if you feel uncomfortable, frustrated or unsafe, if the incident in question isn’t considered harassment under the law, employers can easily dismiss the claim, and have no obligation to investigate.
Document the harassment as it happens.
Taking timely, detailed notes is an important part of gathering evidence to support your claim. If you have tried to change your work situation, such as switching to a different department or by looking for a different job entirely, document that process as well.
If you feel comfortable doing so, approach your harasser about their behavior.
Your case becomes stronger if you can show the EEOC and your employer that you attempted to resolve the harassment on your own. Sometimes, this can even solve the problem, and you don’t have to file a claim. However, victims should not approach their harasser unless they feel they can do so safely and professionally.
Talk to potential witnesses whom you trust and see if they will support your claim.
If any trusted co-workers have seen the harassment take place or have experienced it themselves, ask if they will support or join your claim. Credible witnesses can be assets in winning your claim. Read this preparation manual for guidance on all the pieces of a harassment case from Trinity College of Dublin to understand what being a witness might entail.
Prepare for litigation.
Most harassment cases are settled out of court, but it’s a good idea to research possible lawyers in advance in case you feel the incident isn’t being handled properly.
Present your documentation to the human resources department, your union representative or a manager.
An investigation will take place, and its results and any recommendations will be provided once the investigation is over.
Submit a claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Sometimes an employee will choose to file a claim through the EEOC instead of their employer. An employee can also file an EEOC harassment charge after approaching their employer if they feel the investigation was inadequate or unfair, or if they’ve been subjected to retaliation for their claim.
Additional Resources For Combatting Workplace Harassment
Combatting Harassment on Campus
Nationwide, colleges have faced criticism for inadequately addressing harassment, but the problem nevertheless continues. Some incidents go unreported, and others may be minimized as administrations get skittish at the prospect of scandals or punishing those who are falsely accused. Social stigma, skepticism that the problem will be addressed, and even the inability to recognize harassment can keep students from reporting problems.
College Students & Young Adults
Sexual harassment isn’t addressed enough. A survey sponsored by Hollaback! revealed that two-thirds of all students will experience some form of sexual harassment during college, and that 55 percent of college administrators think their campuses should be doing better on methods to report and address the problem.
Harassment Culture On Campus
Much like workplace harassment, media stories on campus harassment hit headlines and cause public outrage. The spectrum of harassment issues students face is enormous. From sexual harassment accusations against professors to students vehemently calling out one another for cultural appropriations on social media, harassment is a complicated word on campuses. But no matter how broad the issues, changing the culture surrounding harassment at schools starts with learning. Get to know some of the common situations students face and get resources to help below.
Your intimate information can end up online, whether you put it out there or not.
Receiving threatening or otherwise unwanted texts or social media messages, or having unwanted photos or videos of you posted online, are common campus issues according to a 2017 study of cyber harassment among college students. But there is help for those facing a cyberbullying situation, see below.
Hazing could be a part of the party.
While often associated with athletics or Greek life, hazing has been a historically negative part of acceptance into collegiate groups. Many schools have made efforts to crack down on hazing through stricter rules and increased supervision, but students can do their part to end this type of harassment by refusing to participate where hazing is part of the party and by reporting violations. Sigma Epsilon also provides suggestions for students on avoiding hazing in fraternities in particular.
Clubs and student groups can use their right to free speech to offend others.
The ACLU provides information on what types of speech are protected under the First Amendment on campus, and it might mean something offensive to you is legally allowed to be shared. However, there is a line: targeted harassment and threats are not allowed. However, other solutions beyond a harassment claim may exist for students experiencing hate speech or other discriminatory ideals, see below.
A teacher could make you feel continually humiliated or degraded.
While most campus harassment issues focus on incidents that occur between students, teachers can also be harassers. The power imbalance between teachers and students, compounded by the fact that teaching occurs in a public sphere, can make students feel especially helpless and can have serious, detrimental impacts on student learning. Here are some ideas to help if you’re facing a challenging situation with a teacher.
You may encounter a roommate situation that makes you uncomfortable or is unsafe.
You may encounter a roommate situation that makes you uncomfortable or is unsafe. Living with a randomly assigned roommate in the dorms or rooming with friends off-campus can be a great learning experience for students. However, some roommate situations can become abusive. Living with a harasser can be nerve-wrecking and dangerous, so it’s important that students address any serious issues–not just disagreements between people learning how to share a living space–before the situation worsens.
Know Your Rights
Dealing with harassment can be mentally and emotionally taxing, and researching laws, rights and harassment policies after an incident occurs only adds to the burden. Understanding your rights before starting school can help students identify problems and take action to stop them before they get worse. Here are some important things to know:
Schools are federally prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex.
Title IX laws apply to educational institutions that receive federal funding. However, there are some exemptions to Title IX protections, including campus membership groups like fraternities and sororities, and military training schools.
Schools are required to provide non-hostile educational environments.
Despite the absence of an overarching, federal anti-bullying law, schools are required to provide safe, non-hostile environments for students. When harassment or discrimination occurs, especially when it’s related to a protected class such as race or religion, schools can be liable for damages if victims can demonstrate the school failed to take steps to protect them. That goes for campus programs that take place off-campus, too.
Schools must provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities.
All rights granted through the Americans with Disabilities Act apply in both public and private educational institutions. Discrimination against students with disabilities, or fostering an environment that is hostile to them, are federal offenses.
Crimes that occur on campus must be reported to police.
Under the Clery Act, schools that receive federal funding cannot keep secret crimes that occur on campus. Campus crime and the efforts made to reduce and prevent crime must be reported to students and employees every year.
Pregnancy or parental status should not inhibit a student’s ability to receive an education.
Like students with disabilities, students who are pregnant or are parents are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations to aid in their education. Those who are harassed or inhibited by educators or peers can file a claim.
What To Do If You Want To Report
Busy schedules, social pressures and lack of know-how can discourage students from addressing or reporting harassment on campus. However, if you are ready to speak up, following these steps can help.
Determine whether you want to file a complaint through your school or through the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
Students can file a OCR complaint and a school complaint, or both; it’s advisable to investigate both options to see which route best suits their circumstances. In 2015, the OCR reported a record number of complaints were filed.
Provide as much detail as possible.
Students need to make sure their forms are complete and contain as much detail about the harassment as possible. Campus resource or counseling centers may be able to help students fill out complaint forms and cope with the process of recounting and recording incidents. A therapist or trusted friend may also be able to provide emotional support.
Make a copy of the completed complaint form to keep for yourself and submit the original to the OCR or a school official.
Complaints can be mailed to the OCR or submitted through their online form. For complaints filed through the school, students may need to do some research to find out where to submit the claim. The women’s resource center, diversity office, queer resource center, disability resource center, health counselors or academic advisers should be able to help.
Wait for the results.
At this point, the issue may be resolved, or it may be ongoing. Though laws vary by state, you may need to file a civil harassment restraining order to prevent ongoing harassment. When a decision does come down, they can appeal the decision if they feel it was not handled appropriately, or a legal battle may ensue. Learn more about your options after the results of an investigation are given from the U.S. Department of Education.
Resources For Combatting Harassment In College
Anonymous Alerts App
Designed to establish anonymous two-way communication with campus officials, this app allows students to report inappropriate behavior, harassment and other offenses, and allows administrators to take swift action in investigating.
This app allows students to create a list of trusted contacts whom they can alert in dangerous situations. The app also has a number of other useful features to help students feel safe.
Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
Get comprehensive information on cyber harassment and ways to stop it.
National Behavioral Intervention Team Association
Find information on behavioral intervention teams, which work to reduce harassment and other dangerous behaviors among students.
This app allows students to record and save harassment incidents, see if other victims have dealt with the same perpetrator, and report incidents to campus officials.
How Anyone Can Help End Harassment
Harassment is so deeply ingrained in American culture that it’s often not recognized as such, but anyone can be a catalyst for change. No matter if you are a victim yourself, know someone who has been affected or aren’t directly involved in a harassment situation, you stand up against it. Here’s a list of ideas on how to take action, with tips on what not to do, too.
Empowering Advice from an Expert on Workplace Harassment
Dr. Brittany L. Stalsburg is a gender expert who owns the market research and communication strategy firm, BLS Research & Consulting. Her work on sexual harassment and women in the workplace has received wide recognition, and she was a recipient of Connecticut Magazine's Top 40 under 40 award. She holds a Ph.D. in Women & Politics from Rutgers University.
Based on your research and experiences, what is the hardest part of recovering from harassment?
I think it’s being able to talk about what happened. Giving voice to one's experience is part of what helps us process difficult events, and in some ways talking about these events can help us move on from them. Survivors of sexual harassment or assault feel embarrassed and ashamed, and may blame themselves for what occurred. Yet talking about the experience can feel empowering, and sharing with others who went through similar situations can help survivors feel that they are not alone, and that what happened was not their fault.
Where are some ways people can address standalone and continued instances of harassment?
I'm very encouraged to see more of a cultural shift in America to a context in which women are being believed and encouraged to speak out. At the same time, we really need to remember that this problem is NOT on women to fix. Employers and institutions that have power are responsible for creating inclusive work environments that are free from sexual harassment and other sexist behaviors. They need to establish clear, transparent and effective anti-sexual harassment policies that hold perpetrators accountable and create an inclusive environment where all employees are respected.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but one key to effectively combatting sexual harassment in particular in the workplace is establishing a culture that is free from sexism and other forms of discrimination. Oftentimes, this starts at the top: leadership in any company or organization must model inclusive behavior so that it becomes a normal part of company culture. Part of this also involves making sure the company or organization includes women in visible leadership roles. The EEOC actually has a great report that outlines the keys to combatting sexual harassment in the workplace.
As someone who has experienced harassment, what would you tell bystanders, potential advocates or even harassers?
Bystanders are a very important part of the solution to combatting harassment. Far too often, people will hear a sexual joke or comment that is clearly making someone uncomfortable, but will go along with it and laugh or just ignore the situation. Bystanders need to stand up to bad behavior, and this is most effective when the bystander is someone in a leadership position.
Additional Harassment Support and Recovery Resources