What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is when someone takes part in upsetting or bothersome comments (or behavior) about sex and gender. It can happen at work, school, or in other spaces.

Sexual harassment includes:

Sexual solicitation and advances, for example:

  • a teacher asks for sex in exchange for a passing grade
  • demanding hugs
  • invading your personal space
  • leering or inappropriate staring
  • making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching
  • showing or sending pornography, sexual pictures or cartoons, sexually explicit graffiti, or other sexual images (including online)
  • sexual jokes, including passing around written sexual jokes (for example, by e-mail)
  • making sexual propositions
  • spreading sexual rumours (including online)
  • bragging about sexual prowess
  • demanding dates or sexual favours
  • asking questions or talking about sexual activities
  • making threats to penalize or punish a person who refuses to comply with sexual advances (known as reprisal)
  • creating a space that becomes a poisoned environment: i.e. someone puts up sexual images in the workplace
  • sexual assault or the threat of sexual assault

Gender-based harassment includes:

  • targeting someone in a negative way for not following sex-role stereotypes
  • using language that puts someone down and/or comments toward women (or men, in some cases), sex-specific derogatory names
  • making gender-related comments about someone’s physical characteristics or mannerisms
  • making comments or treating someone badly because they don’t conform with sex-role stereotypes
  • making suggestive or offensive comments or hints about members of a specific gender
  • verbally abusing, threatening or taunting someone based on gender
  • vulgar humour or language related to gender
  • using sexual or gender-related comment or conduct to bully someone
  • making an employee dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way
  • acting in a way that undermines a person’s position of responsibility (Ontario Human Rights Commission)

Learn more about sexual harassment