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What sexual harassment is and what it does

A vast majority of women will experience some form of sexual harassment at some point during their lives. However, men can also become the victims of sexual harassment. Many women, and men, fail to take any action unless it becomes severe or turns into a sexual assault. Even then, the victim may not report it out of fear, shame or embarrassment.

If you are one of these individuals, you should know that sexual harassment does not have to reach these levels for you to do something about it. Even if the perpetrator's actions do not rise to the level of criminal activity, it does not excuse it. Numerous federal and state laws protect you from this type of behavior, and you should not hesitate to assert your rights under them.

How does federal law define sexual harassment?

Outside of a sexual assault, which the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Woman defines as any nonconsensual sexual act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles allegations of sexual harassment. It defines this type of harassment as actions or behaviors as follows:

  • Your superior requests sexual favors from you.
  • You experience unreasonable interference with your work performance caused by physical and/or verbal harassment of a sexual nature.
  • You experience unwelcome and wanted sexual advances at work.
  • You experience the creation of a hostile work environment due to physical and/or verbal harassment of a sexual nature.
  • You feel forced into dealing with an offensive or intimidating work environment created by physical and/or verbal harassment of a sexual nature.

These actions and behaviors do not have to be explicit. However, it does have to affect your work environment and your ability to perform your job duties because it is pervasive or severe. Sexual harassment also violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it constitutes sex discrimination.

How sexual harassment could affect you

Sexual harassment takes its toll on victims in numerous ways, including those listed below:

  • You could experience mental and physical ailments such as depression, ulcers, anxiety and migraines, among other things. It's not uncommon for victims to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • You may decide to leave your chosen career field based on your experiences.
  • You may not pursue opportunities for advancement or additional on-the-job training due to sexual harassment.

Your mind and body could take quite a beating due to this type of harassment, and it could take you some time to feel normal again. These effects will more than likely affect your finances as well. For instance, if you are unable to work because of PTSD or a chronic medical condition brought on by sexual harassment, you are not earning an income.

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