Sexual harassment is never okay. Whether at work, in public, or anywhere else, sexual harassment does not have to be – and should not be – tolerated. If you believe that you or a loved one may be a victim of sexual harassment, it is important that you speak up, and we encourage you to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys right away.
3 Forms of Sexual Harassment
In legal terms, sexual harassment is considered a form of sexual abuse. Not only is sexual harassment inappropriate, but it is also unlawful, and in appropriate cases, perpetrators can be held accountable in both civil and criminal court. When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace (or any time while the perpetrator is working), the perpetrator’s employer can be held liable as well, and there are multiple state and federal laws that provide special protections to employees who are sexually harassed on the job.
Broadly speaking, there are three forms of sexual harassment. These are: (i) verbal sexual harassment, (ii) non-verbal sexual harassment, and (iii) physical sexual contact.
1. Verbal Sexual Harassment
Verbal sexual harassment involves saying anything of a sexual nature to someone who is an unwilling recipient. If someone else says something to you that is either explicitly sexual or sexually-suggestive, and if what they say makes you uncomfortable, then you may be a victim of sexual harassment. Examples of verbal sexual harassment include:
- Requesting sexual favors
- Expressing a desire for sexual contact or conduct
- Using sexually-explicit language
- Telling sexual jokes
- Commenting on a person’s appearance
- Speaking in a sexual tone
- Using sexually-suggestive nicknames or terms of endearment
Not every sexually-charged comment rises to the level of sexual harassment, and the perpetrator’s intent can be a factor in some cases (e.g., if someone tells a sexual joke believing that it will be found funny, not offensive). However, there is a line that can be easily crossed; and, for individuals who feel that they have been victimized by verbal sexual harassment, it is important to consult with an attorney promptly.
2. Non-Verbal Sexual Harassment
Non-verbal sexual harassment is any form of unwanted sexual communication or conduct that involves something other than verbal speech but falls short of physical sexual contact. This includes sending emails and text messages that are sexually explicit or otherwise sexual in nature, as well as acts such as:
- Exposing oneself
- Blocking a hallway or doorway
- Blowing kisses or winking
- Showing sexually-explicit videos
- Staring, following, or stalking
Here, too, a single act of non-verbal sexual harassment will not necessarily give rise to a legal claim – although it is a possibility, depending on the circumstances involved. If you have any evidence (e.g., an email or text message), you should keep it to share with your attorney; and, if anyone saw what happened, he or she could serve as an important witness in your sexual harassment case as well.
3. Physical Sexual Contact
Unwanted physical contact is considered either sexual harassment or sexual assault, depending on the severity of the encounter. Examples of physical contact that can constitute sexual harassment, or that can blur the line between sexual harassment and sexual assault, include:
- Any form of unwanted touching
- Patting, grabbing, rubbing, or pinching
- Hugging or kissing
No matter where you are or what you are doing, you do not have to accept unwanted physical sexual contact. You have the right to your own personal sovereignty, and you cannot legally be forced to submit to unwanted physical sexual contact as a condition to receiving a job opportunity or anything else. If you or someone you care about has been victimized, a lawyer can help, and we strongly encourage you to contact a lawyer right away.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Many cases of sexual harassment involve unwanted verbal communication, non-verbal communication, or physical contact in the workplace. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers can be held liable for two specific categories of sexual harassment perpetrated by their employees. These categories are: (i) quid pro quo sexual harassment and (ii) sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment.
- Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment – Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that means, “this for that” or, “a favor for a favor.” In the employment context, quid pro quo sexual harassment typically involves a supervisor, manager, or executive offering an employment opportunity on the condition that the subordinate employee consents to sexual advances, contact, or conduct. This can involve either an overt request (e.g., “I’ll give you a promotion if . . . .”), or suggestive words or conduct that indicate that the superior is willing to provide an employment opportunity if a subordinate or candidate “offers” a sexual favor.
- Hostile Work Environment – A hostile work environment exists when instances of harassment, which may be insufficient to support legal claims on their own, are so pervasive that they make an employee uncomfortable returning to work each day. The instances of harassment do not have to involve – and generally do not involve – a quid pro quo. For example, if an employee is repeatedly subjected to unwanted sexual advances or regularly receives offensive emails or texts from a coworker (or multiple coworkers), this could create a hostile work environment.
Regardless of the specific circumstances involved, if you feel as though you have been sexually harassed, or if you are concerned that a loved one may be a victim, you should seek help promptly. At D’Amore Law Group, we represent victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse throughout Oregon and Washington, and one of our attorneys will be happy to speak with you in person or over the phone in complete confidence.
Schedule a Free and Confidential Consultation with a Trusted Harassment Lawyer in Oregon or Washington
If you would like to speak with an attorney about your (or your loved one’s) legal rights, we encourage you to get in touch. To speak with a harassment lawyer at D’Amore Law Group in confidence, call us directly or request a free consultation online today.