Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual communication or attention that is offensive, intimidating, or humiliating. It can take verbal, written, and/or visual form. It may include psychological violence, verbal abuse, manipulation, and coercion. Generally, harassment is repeated behaviour but one-time incidents may also constitute harassment.
Sexual harassment includes but is not limited to:
- Unwanted sexual statements and advances: sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes and appearance, spreading rumours about sexual activity, talking about sexual activity in front of others, displaying and/or distributing sexually explicit images or materials. Unsolicited touching of a sexual nature or exposure of oneself for others to view are also considered harassment.
- Unwanted personal attention such as emails, phone calls, text messages, visits, pressure for unnecessary personal interactions and pressure for dates where sexual or romantic intent appears evident but is unwanted are all forms of sexual harassment.
- Unwelcome remarks based on gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation that are demeaning or derogatory.
The repeated normalization of sexual harassment and the excuses that accompany such acts (“it’s just a joke,” “it’s harmless,” “they’re just being friendly,” etc.) contribute to the common lack of acknowledgment of the inappropriate behaviour.
Sexual harassment constitutes an infringement of human rights, namely a person’s right to equality guaranteed by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights.