8 things that seem normal but are actually sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace or any other setting can sometimes be masked by behaviours that are considered normal or harmless by some, but are actually inappropriate and harmful.

Recognizing these behaviours is key to maintaining a respectful and safe environment for everyone. Here are some actions and behaviors that might be considered normal by some, but can constitute sexual harassment:

1. Unwanted compliments and comments
Compliments on someone’s appearance might seem harmless but can become harassing, especially if they are persistent, sexually suggestive, or make the recipient uncomfortable.

Comments about body parts, outfit choices in a sexual manner, or repeated unwelcome comments about attractiveness all cross the line into harassment.

2. “Harmless” touching
Touches that might be perceived as friendly or innocuous, such as hugs, pats on the back, or touching someone’s arm during conversation, can actually be invasive if they are not welcomed by the other person. Understanding and respecting personal boundaries is crucial.

3. Personal questions
Asking personal questions about someone’s romantic life, sexual preferences, or family plans can also be a form of sexual harassment, especially if these questions are not relevant to the person’s job and make them feel uncomfortable.

4. Jokes and banter
Sexual jokes, innuendos, or suggestive remarks that are part of workplace banter can create a hostile environment. What may seem like light-hearted fun to some may be offensive and harassing to others.

5. Repeated invitations
Continuously asking a colleague out on dates or to social events after they have said no can be a form of harassment. It’s important to respect their decision and not persist with further requests.

6. Sharing inappropriate material
Sending or sharing sexually explicit or suggestive materials, such as videos, photos, GIFs, or memes, via email, text, or social media can easily fall into the category of sexual harassment.

7. Standing too close or hovering
Invading someone’s personal space by standing too close on a regular basis or hovering around them can make them feel uncomfortable and threatened, even if physical contact is not made.

8. Using pet names
Calling a coworker by pet names such as “honey,” “sweetie,” or “babe” can be demeaning and unprofessional, reducing their professional identity to a sexualized role.

Many of these behaviours are often excused as being part of a friendly and open workplace culture. However, they can be unwelcome and make recipients feel uncomfortable or threatened.

It’s essential for everyone in a workplace to understand what constitutes sexual harassment and to foster an environment where such behaviours are recognized and addressed promptly to ensure that all employees feel safe and respected.

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