What is sexualized harassment?
Sexualized harassment is a catch-all term that encompasses a variety of violent sexualized acts that impact a person or group’s personal boundaries, physical choices and emotional well-being. Sexual harassment is very serious, and all too common.
Sexualized harassment does not have to be sexual in nature. It can also mean that someone is harassing another person simply because of their gender or sexual orientation (or what they perceive their gender identity or sexual orientation to be).
Sexualized harassment happens most often to cis women, and trans, two-spirit and non-binary folks but it can happen to people of any gender. It can also be perpetrated by people of any gender. Usually sexual harassment is a pattern of behaviour that happens frequently over a period of time. However, a single incident can be serious enough to be considered harassment as well.
Examples of sexualized harassment:
- Verbal name-calling or soliciting sexualized attention
- Labelling someone (‘slut’, ‘fag’)
- Spreading rumours about someone
- Commenting about someone’s body, sexuality or gender expression
- Physical/emotional/verbal acts of violence based on a label (e.g. slut-shaming) or on sexuality or gender identity
- Groping someone’s body
- Creating or facilitating an environment that is perceived as violent by someone through enforcing ideas about gender
- Physical control of public space and excluding bodies based on gender or sexuality
- Sharing images or stories about their bodies, sexuality or gender without their consent
If you are experiencing sexualized harassment
If you are experiencing sexualized harassment, it is not your fault. Nothing you have done or could do entitles another person to harass you. Documenting the harassment can be important if you are thinking of reporting; carefully record dates, times and details. While one way of dealing with a harassing situation is to tell the harasser what it is that you find offensive and ask that the behaviour stop, it may be difficult or unsafe to confront someone directly with concerns, particularly in situations involving a power difference. Do not feel that you have to handle the situation yourself before approaching someone for help. Please contact us or another community organization for support.
Ideas for safety planning
- Let your family, friends, employers and neighbours know what is happening;
- Tell others not to give out any information about you;
- Keep a record of the harasser’s actions – include dates and times in this record;
- Try to vary your daily routines;
- If possible, walk or ride with others;
- It is often unsafe to meet with the harasser – avoid all contact with this person.
Taking action about sexualized harassment
People who commit sexualized harassment often do so because they think or know they will be able to get away with it. If we shift the culture around violence to be intolerant of all kinds of harassment, then harassers will be less able to “get away with it” and target people who they feel have less power or have no ability to respond or react.
There are ways that we can all take action, individually, in groups and in our communities. Individual actions could include intervening or saying something when you see someone harassing another person (if you feel safe to do so), sharing your experience of being harassed, or talking about why harassment is violent with someone you know.
Community action could include asking people in your community what kinds of harassment they have witnessed and experienced and what they feel needs to be done about it, making a film or writing a song about it, or organizing an event to create awareness and change.
Check out our section on prevention of gender-based violence and on intervening when you see gender-based violence happening.