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Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment is a legal term that is constantly being refined and redefined. The basic definition comes from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

There are two basic types of sexual harassment:

  • Quid Pro Quo – when a person's acceptance or rejection of sexual advances or conduct is made the basis of employment decisions.
  • Hostile environment – unwelcome sexual conduct unreasonably interferes with

With a person's job performance or creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment.


  • In 2011 the EEOC received 11,384 complaints of sexual harassment: 16.3% of the charges were filed by males
  • 1 in 3 women ages 18 to 34 has been sexually harassed in the workplace (Catalyst, 2012)
  • Men and women are almost equally likely to be harassed on campus, but in different ways and with different results. Women are more likely to be the target of sexual jokes, comments or gestures, while men are more likely to be called gay or a homophobic name (AAUW, 2005)
  • LGBTQ persons are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be sexually harassed

Sexual Harassment Dynamics

  • The victim and the harasser can be either male or female.
  • The victim can be the opposite or same sex as the harasser.
  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, co-worker, or non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
  • For an employer to be held liable they must have known about the harassment and failed to take appropriate action.
  • Many times sexual harassment goes unreported because victims are made to feel ashamed, are afraid they will not be believed, or won't be able to prove it, or will be branded a troublemaker. Many victims leave jobs before saying anything.
  • In the university setting, sexual harassers can be professors harassing students, students harassing other students, senior faculty harassing junior faculty, staff supervisors harassing their supervisees, or one co-worker harassing another.

Impact on Victims

  • Sexual harassment can take a heavy toll on victims. Outcomes include depressed mood, anxiety, concentration difficulties, diminished ambition, self-confidence and self-esteem (cited in Huerta, Cortina, Pang, Torges, Magley, 2006)
  • Some victims even show signs of post-traumatic stress and feelings similar to sexually assaulted women, that is, anger, degradation, violation, and betrayal (cited in Huerta, Cortina, Pang, Torges, Magley, 2006).
  • Harassment of students may cause students to miss class, lower their grades, or even drop out.
  • Victims can experience a range of somatic effects such as sleep disturbances, headaches, neck and back pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and disordered eating (cited in Huerta, Cortina, Pang, Torges, Magley, 2006).

What Should You Do?

  • Take the harassment seriously. Don't ignore the harassment or blame yourself.
  • Make it clear to the harasser that the advances are unwelcome. Document your notice to the harasser and tell him/her that their actions will be reported if they continue.
  • Document all offensive behavior. Keep a log of specific dates, times, occasions, witnesses and incidents.
  • Report the behavior to your supervisor or another administrative officer if your supervisor is the harasser. Also, report the harassment to the Office of Affirmative Action/EEO.
  • Read the University of Houston Sexual Harassment policy by clicking here.
  • Seek support from families, friends, and possibly a counselor.
  • Consult an attorney experienced in sexual harassment cases.
  • If the harasser's behavior included assault or rape, report the behavior to the police department.

Community and National Resources

Houston District EEOC Office (800) 669-4000

University of Houston Campus Resources

UH Police Emergency: 911
Information: (713) 743-0600 or (713) 743-333
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (713) 743-5454
Women's Resource Center (832) 842-6191
UH Equal Opportunity Services (713) 743-8835