What is Sexual Harassment?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects students from unlawful sexual harassment in all school programs and activities. The Office of Civil Rights is the federal agency that ensures that academic institutions comply with Title IX. Whether verbal, written, or physical, harassment of any kind is unacceptable in the Macalester community.

In general, behavior is considered sexual harassment when

  • Submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or academic success or
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting such individuals or
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or sexually offensive working environment.

Who can be a victim of sexual harassment?

A victim can be of any gender or sexual orientation, regardless of the gender of the person responsible for the harassment. A person may experience sexual harassment if they are the direct target as well as if they observe, are in the presence of, or are affected by the offensive conduct. A 1997 study revealed that 34% of LGBT students reported having been harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 6% of heterosexual students report having exeprienced homophobic harassment (Reis).

Who can be a sexual harasser?

The harasser may of any gender. Sexual harassment may occur between any two members of the Macalester community, for example, between faculty and students, faculty and faculty, students and staff, and student and student. While sexual harassment often occurs when there is a power differential between the two people, it can also happen between peers or colleagues where there is no power difference.

Can one incident constitute sexual harassment?

It depends. In "quid pro quo" cases, a single sexual advance may constitute harassment if it is linked to the granting or denial of employment or educational advancement. In contrast, a single incident of offensive sexual conduct or remarks generally does not create a "hostile environment." A hostile environment claim usually requires a showing of a pattern of offensive conduct. However, a single incident that is severe, could create a hostile environment.

It is important to remember that every situation is unique and needs to be evaluated based on several factors, including the nature of the behavior, the frequency and context of the behavior, and the relationship between the two people involved. Because of this, we recommend talking to any one of the resources listed below so that you can better understand the situation, your options and your rights.

What can I do to prevent sexual harassment?

It is important to be aware that sexual remarks or physical conduct of a sexual nature may be offensive or can make some people uncomfortable even if you wouldn't feel the same way yourself. Follow these guidelines to help avoid making someone else uncomfortable:

  • Do not repeat behavior if you have been told that it is not wanted. If you are in doubt, stop the behavior.
  • Ask if something you do or say is being perceived as offensive or unwelcome. If the answer is yes, stop the behavior.
  • Do not interpret someone's silence as consent. Look for other nonverbal signals.
  • Do not retaliate if someone accuses you of sexual harassment. Retaliation is against the law and is considered an additional or separate offense.
  • Speak up at sexist jokes, inappropriate innuendos, offensive gossip, or talk that is objectifying in nature.

What do I do if I think I'm being sexually harassed?

Whether sexual harassment comes from a person in authority or a peer, it is not acceptable. Macalester regards any behavior which is sexually harassing as a violation of the standards of conduct required for everyone associated with the college, whether faculty, staff or students.

If you are being sexually harassed, there are a number of things you can do

  • Tell the person that his or her behavior is making you uncomfortable, if you feel that you can do this. There are other ways of addressing the situation if this approach is not right for you
  • Save any written material, including pictures, notes, texts, and email, that are part of the harassment. You may be tempted to get rid of it immediately, especially if it is offensive. However, your feelings may change over time about whether or not you want to file a complaint, and that physical evidence will be very helpful in holding someone accountable.
  • Know your rights and Macalester’s policies. You can contact campus security, a member of the Sexual Assault Support Team, or a member of the Macalester College Harassment Committee (MCHC), confidentially and file a complaint. You can call a staff member anonymously to discuss the situation and then decide what to do next.
  • By discussing the situation with a staff member, you will learn about the options available to you. These options may include:
  • Informal resolution
  • Intervention by a third party (such as a member of the MCHC)
  • Formal complaint process for faculty, students, or staff

Four Primary types of sexual harassment

  1. Hostile environment - conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive/persistent and objectively offensive that it alters conditions or opportunities for employment or education
  2. Quid pro quo - unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or other behavior of a sexual nature where rejection of such advances could adversely affect employment or education
  3. Retaliatory harassment - any adverse employment or educational action taken against a person because of the person's participation in a complaint or investigation
  4. Sexual Exploitation - when a person takes non-consensual or abusive sexual advantage of another for his/her own benefit, and the behavior doe nt otherwise constitute harassment or assault (e.g., non-consensual video or audio-taping sex, allowing friends to view sexual activity, photos on social media sites)

Examples of sexual harassment

  • Uninvited touching or hugging
  • Requesting sexual favors for rewards related to school or work
  • Suggestive jokes of a sexual nature
  • Sexual pictures or displays
  • Graffiti on residence hall bulletin boards that is derrogatory toward women
  • Continuing unwelcome flirtation or propositions
  • Obscene gestures or sounds
  • Written notes of a sexual nature
  • "Rating" employees bodies and sex appeal, commenting suggestively about appearance
  • A professor tells a student that s/he will not pass a course unless requests for sexual favors are granted

It is important to understand that any type of sexual harassment can be blatant or it can be very subtle. It can take the form of one serious incident or more subtle acts that continue over time. Sexual harassment can be intentional or unintentional.