FAQ: Sexual Harassment

Q. How do I know if someone’s conduct will qualify as “unwelcome”?
A. In general, unwelcome sexual conduct may be, but is not limited to, any of the following acts or behaviors that are not explicitly invited by the recipient: unwanted sexual advances, subtle or overt pressure for sexual activity, unnecessary or unwanted touching, stalking, sexually suggestive displays, deliberate molestations, demands for sexual favors, promises of gifts in exchange for sex, lurid telephone calls, obscene messages and e-mails, or being improperly followed or watched by an instructor, employer or peer.

Q. If I am uncomfortable with someone’s sexual conduct toward me, what should I do?
A. If someone is saying or doing something of a sexual nature that may be inappropriate or unwelcome, you are encouraged to tell him or her that you are uncomfortable with that behavior and/or disapprove of it. However, if you are unwilling or afraid to do so, you should report the behavior to your supervisor, the appropriate office designated by campus policy, a co-worker or a friend. No matter what, take steps to stop the harassment.

Q. If I think I have been subjected to sexual harassment, what should I do?
A. You should immediately notify your supervisor, the office designated by campus policies, a trusted faculty member or someone who can help you.

Q. If I make a complaint of sexual harassment, will my complaint remain confidential?
A. Although every effort is made to handle harassment complaints in a confidential manner, it may be necessary to provide information to other relevant persons to effectively investigate the complaint. In addition, the alleged harasser has a right to know the details of the complaint in order to adequately respond, such as the name of the complainant and/or witnesses to the incident and the nature of the alleged harassment.

Q. May a supervisor choose not to investigate a sexual harassment complaint on the basis of protecting the confidentiality of those involved?
A. No. Supervisors are required to investigate and address a complaint of harassment or refer it to the appropriate office for investigation.

Q. Can a hostile work environment arise on the basis of only one incident?
A. Yes, if the incident is sufficiently severe so as to alter or change the terms or condition of the work or academic environment. A physical assault is an example of such conduct.  

Q. Is it sexual harassment for an instructor to display a sexually explicit picture during a lecture?
A. Not necessarily. In limited circumstances, sexually explicit material or other forms of expression with the potential for hurting or offending members of the university community may nevertheless be part of meaningful discourse in the classroom. Where such material has no educational purpose, it is more likely to be unlawful.

Q. What is sexual assault?
A. Sexual assault is a criminal act. It occurs when an individual is forced, threatened or coerced into sexual contact against his or her free will or without his or her consent. Sexual assault may include date or acquaintance rape, sexual molestation, unwanted sexual touching or having sexual contact with a person while knowing or having reason to know that the person is incapacitated in some way (i.e., due to drugs or alcohol). Sexual assault is one of the most extreme forms of sexual harassment. A person should seek and obtain unmistakable, clear consent from the other person before engaging in any form of sexual activity or behavior.

Q. What should I do if I think I was sexually assaulted?
A. If you believe you have been a victim of sexual assault, your first priority is to get to a safe place. Then, immediately contact the police or dial 911. It may be helpful to contact a trusted friend or family member to be with you during the investigation into the incident. You may also contact a campus official, such as your supervisor, the Dean of Students, the Affirmative Action Office or any other official who can help you. No matter what, reach out and get the help you need.