Sexual harassment

What is sexual harassment?

At first glance, it seems to be quite difficult to draw the line between a harmless flirt, amicable socialising and sexual harassment. But there is a simple rule: the decisive factor is not the intent of the acting person, but how these actions are perceived by the other person concerned - is the actor’s behaviour unwelcome or not.


Sexism comprises all kinds of discrimination based on gender/sex. Making fun of person because of their looks, their behaviour or their sexual orientation are examples of sexist attitudes, as are lewd remarks.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any kind of conduct with a sexual connotation which is undesired by one party and which debases a person on the basis of the gender. Harassment can occur in various places, during work hours, before/during/after lectures or at official gatherings, and can originate from various people: superiors, colleagues, lecturers or fellow students. Sexual harassment can occur verbally, in gestures or deeds. It can originate from individuals or groups.

Examples of sexual harassment

  • People concerned are leered at.
  • Lewd, suggestive comments about looks.
  • Sexist remarks and jokes about sexual features, sexual conduct or sexual orientation.
  • Pornographic material is shown, posted, sent by email or internal mail at the workplace or study area.
  • Those affected receive unwelcome invitations with an evident sexual intent.
  • Persons affected are stalked.
  • Unwelcome advances are made, combined with the promise of advantages or the threat of repercussions in case of rejection.
  • Unwelcome physical contact.

What is behind sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is usually motivated by the will to dominate and control and has nothing to do with eroticism or sexual attraction.  The arena of sexuality is chosen because victims are especially vulnerable in this area. By these violations victims are meant to be kept in subordinate positions or prevented from developing their career.

Flirt or sexual harassment? – What’s the difference?

The line between flirt and sexual harassment may seem very fine at first glance, but there are clear differences:

A flirt...:

  • is mutual
  • is empowering
  • is desired by both parties involved
  • boosts self-confidence
  • makes you happy
  • brightens your workday
  • respects personal boundaries

Sexual harassment...:

  • is a one-sided approach
  • is demeaning and offensive
  • is undesired by one person concerned
  • undermines self-confidence
  • causes anger
  • poisons the atmosphere at the workplace
  • oversteps personal boundaries