What is Sexual Harassment?

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Content warning: This page contains information about sexual harassment.

Confidential RSVP counselors available 24/7
Email rsvpcenter@wustl.edu or call 314-935-3445 (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)

24/7 emergency via WUPD (314-935-5555) or SARAH during the academic year (314-935-8080)

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favor, or other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, including sexual violence, whether committed on or off campus, when:

  1. Submission to such contact is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of an individual’s employment or academic advancement;
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis or threatened to be used as the basis for employment or academic decisions or assessments affecting an individual; or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose of effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or educational performance or creating an intimidating or hostile environment for work or learning.

This conduct will typically be directed against a particular individual or individuals and will either be abusive or severely humiliating or will persist despite the objection of the person targeted by the speech or conduct. Sexual harassment can be verbal, visual, physical or communicated in writing or electronically.

Some conduct obviously constitutes sexual harassment – such as a threat that a grade or promotion will depend on submission to a sexual advance. But whether particular conduct constitutes sexual harassment will often depend upon the specific context of the situation, including the participants’ understanding of the situation, their past dealings with each other, the nature of their professional relationship (e.g., supervisor-subordinate, colleague, etc.) and the specific setting. The inquiry can be particularly complex in an academic community, where the free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints preserved by the concept of academic freedom may sometimes prove distasteful, disturbing or offensive to some.

Examples of conduct which may constitute sexual harassment include but are not limited to:

  • requests for sexual favors
  • hugging, rubbing, touching, patting, pinching or brushing another’s body
  • inappropriate whistling or staring
  • veiled suggestions of sexual activities
  • requests for private meetings outside of class or business hours for other than legitimate mentoring purposes
  • use in the classroom of sexual jokes, stories or images in no way germane to the subject of the class
  • remarks about a person ’s body or sexual relationships, activities or experience
  • use of inappropriate body images to advertise events
  • sexual violence, including but not limited to rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion

Sexual harassment can be an extremely upsetting experience, leading to feelings of helplessness, fear, humiliation or discomfort. As with any form of sexual violence, there is no right or wrong way to respond to sexual harassment, and each individual’s reaction will be unique. The RSVP Center is committed to supporting students who have experienced or are experiencing sexual harassment at the university.

You can learn more by reading the full discrimination and harassment policy, which also contains information on the procedures for reporting or making a complaint of sexual harassment. The harassment policy pertains to all members of the university community.

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