How do you know if you’ve been sexually harassed? If you are the target of sexual comments or behaviours that are known (or should be known) to be unwelcome, you may be experiencing sexual harassment. These occurrences aren’t always solely sexual in nature; for instance, they can involve a person treating you in an upsetting way because of how you look. Specific examples of sexual harassment (requires Adobe Reader) include the following:
- Insults about your sexuality
- Rumours about your sexuality
- Unnecessary or unwanted touching
- Suggestive or direct comments about sexual ability
- Requests for sex in exchange for doing you a favour or giving you a good grade or promotion
- Comments about your level of attractiveness
If you find yourself in a situation like this at home, at school, or at work, here are some things to keep in mind:
- It’s not your fault.
Everyone is accountable for their own actions. If someone is making inappropriate comments or forcing you into situations that you are uncomfortable with, understand that you are never to blame for their behaviour. Nothing about your actions or appearance can ever justify sexual harassment. And if not you, it is likely your harasser would just be targeting someone else.
- Tell someone what’s happening.
There is no one simple solution for experiences of sexual harassment, as each situation can be quite different. As a first step, it’s a good idea to let the offender know that they have crossed the line, but this may not always be enough to stop their behaviour. If this is the case, the next step is to seek help.
It can be difficult to talk about sexual harassment, but in order to deal with the situation, it’s important to find someone you trust to confide in. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to a teacher or homestay parent just yet, begin by telling a friend or a sibling. Having another person on your side can give you the strength to tell the necessary people (e.g., your principal, teacher, supervisor, or homestay parent) what is going on, so that they can intervene and put a stop to the unwanted behaviour.
- Understand your rights.
Sexual harassment is prohibited under the Human Rights Act in Canada and can be considered a criminal offence. Schools have strict policies about sexual harassment, and these apply whether your harasser is another student or a school employee. If you face sexual harassment at school, you can ask your guidance counsellor or teacher about your school’s policies and the consequences. If sexual harassment is occurring at work, ask your employer or contact the Ministry of Labour office in your province. In the event that sexual harassment is occurring in your home, there are still more resources (scroll down to Canada) to help you. Speak to your guidance counsellor* or your homestay coordinator about the next steps, which could involve reporting the harassment or finding a safe way to remove you from the situation. If you feel the harassment is getting worse or is not being handled, you can always contact your local police department. Teens and children across Canada can call the Kids Help Phone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-800-668-6868. Or they can live chat with a counsellor through their website.
- Document it.
It is strongly encouraged that you report any occurrence of sexual harassment. Keeping documentation of all incidents can be very helpful; this includes text messages, letters, emails, and pictures that have been sent to you. If harassment occurs in a verbal or physical exchange, write a summary of the event right after it happens, noting any others who may have witnessed the behaviour.
- Find resources for international students.
If you are from a different culture and are unfamiliar with behavioural norms in Canada, the issue of sexual harassment can be particularly confusing. While it is perfectly acceptable to shake hands, joke around, and be social, sexually charged comments and jokes can be considered harassment in some cases. Furthermore, any pressure for sex or unwanted touching is absolutely unacceptable. This brochure (requires Adobe Reader) for international students contains information regarding cultural norms and sexual harassment that may be useful to you.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue that requires attention and action. Everyone has the right to live, go to school, and work in a safe and healthy environment that is free of discrimination. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help.
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* If you are under the age of 16, your guidance counsellor is legally obligated to report the sexual harassment to authorities.
- Memorial University. (2011). Sexual harassment: Information for international students [Brochure]. Retrieved from http://www.mun.ca/sexualharassment/brochures/SHO_International_brochure_web.pdf.
- Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2011). Sexual and gender-based harassment: Know your rights [Brochure]. Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/sites/default/files/Sexual%20and%20gender%20based%20harassment_know%20your%20rights_English_accessible.pdf.
- TeensHealth. (2013). Sexual harassment and sexual bullying. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/teen/stress_coping_center/stress_situations/harassment.html#cat20861.
- University of Toronto. (2013). Sexual harassment on campus. Retrieved from http://www.utoronto.ca/sho/guides/guide_students.html.