Sexual Harassment

Mason defines Sexual Harassment as

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct are of a sexual nature and constitute sexual harassment when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made implicitly or explicitly a term or condition of an individual’s academic performance or employment; or
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for decisions about academic evaluations, employment, promotion, transfer, selection for training, performance evaluation, etc.; or
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational or work environment or substantially interferes with a student’s academic performance or an employee’s work performance

Sexual Harassment Policy (University Policy Number 1202)

Consensual Relationships

  • Any employee who has a professional power relationship over a student must avoid any sexual or romantic relationships with the student. No employee shall exercise academic responsibility (instructional, evaluative or supervisory) for any student with whom the employee has or has had a sexual or romantic relationship
  • Should sexual favors be included among the professor’s other demands, the respect and trust accorded a professor by a student limits the student’s freedom of choice
  • Even when both parties have consented to such a relationship, the officer or faculty member will be held accountable for unprofessional behavior
  • Graduate assistants, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants should also exercise special care in their relationships with students
  • If a faculty member who enters into a sexual relationship with a student (or a supervisor with an employee) where there is a difference in power, a charge of sexual harassment will be difficult to fight on the grounds of mutual consent

Consensual Relationships (University Policy Number 1204)

Sexual Harassment Takes Various Forms

Physical
  • Unwelcome physical or sexual touching (up to and including sexual assault)
  • Impeding someone’s movements
  • Following someone
Verbal
  • Sexual comments, jokes, or propositions for social or sexual activities
  • Requests or demands for sexual favors tied to work or academics
Nonverbal
  • Whistling in a suggestive manner
  • Gesturing inappropriately or mimicking degrading sexual images
Hostile Environment
  • Direct sexual advances or propositions, including higher-ranked employees asking for sexual favors
  • Intimidating or excluding employees to jeopardize their employment status
  • Creating a hostile workplace by using sexist jokes, remarks, or displaying sexually explicit or pornographic photos

Sexual Harassment Facts

  • Sexual harassment is discrimination
  • Sexual harassment is about power, not sex
  • Sexual harassment is sexual victimization, not a simple mating ritual
  • Sexual harassment is a form of violence
  • 4 in 10 victims were either concerned about the consequences of making a report, or didn’t think it would do any good. 3 in 10 didn’t consider it important enough
  • Harassers are found in all types of occupations, at all organizational levels, among college professors as well as in the business and professional world, and among individuals who live otherwise exemplary lives
  • Most sexual harassment is perpetrated by men against women. There are also cases of harassment by women against men, and of same-sex harassment perpetrated by either sex
  • A small percentage of individuals in the workplace account for the majority of harassers. Many of these individuals have several victims over a period of time
  • The perpetrator may try to convince the victim they have sexual or romantic motivations

Perpetrator Behaviors

  • Factors in choosing a victim include: Age, perceived passivity or lack of assertiveness, low self-esteem, and other areas of vulnerability
  • Perpetrators of sexual harassment often dismiss or show a lack or regard for the feelings of their victims
  • When confronted about their inappropriate behavior, perpetrators of sexual harassment often act as if they are being victimized.
  • Perpetrators test for potential victims with minor violations
    • Tell sexual jokes, display sexual/erotic materials, make comments about one’s body or clothing, or ask questions about one’s sex life
    • Violate one’s personal space by apparently nonsexual touching or standing too close.
    • Try to tell the potential victim how to run her/his personal or professional “providing guidance”
    • Talk about his/her own personal concerns or relationships, including martial or sexual problems
    • Make requests or demands that the potential victim meet him/her outside of normal work hours or the designated workplace

Why You Might Hesitate to Report Sexual Harassment

  • You do not know what sexual harassment is or what your rights are
  • You fear for your personal safety
  • You fear you might lose your job (or internship, or other academic or professional opportunity)
  • You fear that your grade will be hurt
  • You do not want to get the person who is doing the harassment in trouble
  • You are concerned that nothing will be done if you complain
  • You fear criticism from co-workers who may condone or ignore the harassing behavior
  • You fear you will not be believed
  • You fear you will receive unwanted public exposure
  • You fear you may have done something to invite the harassment
  • You are unsure or unaware of complaint procedures
  • Your cultural traditions may make it difficult for you to discuss issues of sex and sexuality

If You Think You Are Being Harassed

  • Though some offensive comments or gestures might be unintentional, you do not have to tolerate them
  • You have a right to tell the offender to stop, and you do not have to explain or justify yourself
  • The law is on your side
  • Universities and places of employment have a legal responsibility to protect you from sexual harassment
  • If you feel harassed or uncomfortable with the way someone is relating to you, trust your instincts
  • Tell the person that their behavior is making you uncomfortable, and that you want it to stop
  • If you do not feel able to do this, or if the harasser disregards your message, seek help ASAP
Do Not Be Afraid to Reach Out…
  • Click here to contact WAVES for assistance.
  • George Mason University Office of Equity offers Prevention and Equal Opportunity Training for faculty and students. For more information, go to the Mason Equity website
  • Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, or RAINN, operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and an online hotline
  • This same professional help can be accessed through National Sexual Assault Online Hotline
  • To educate yourself and others about your rights as a student at Mason visit [link to rights and regulations page]

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