Scope of Sexual Harassment

A Washington State University student paper elaborates on what comprises sexual harassment. Very timely and relevant.

Brielle Schaeffer for The Daily Evergreen

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me that a man she works with consistently tells her about his sexual exploits and fantasies in explicit detail.

This is sexual harassment. On many levels, people do not truly understand what sexual harassment is. There needs to be more awareness about what is considered sexual harassment. So let’s clear a few things up. When a teacher speaks about her or his secret relationship desires to the extent of making students feel uncomfortable, this is sexual harassment. When a public media figure makes an insensitive sexist and racist statement on the radio, this is sexual harassment. When a student walking on campus is taunted with comments of a sexist and racist nature, this is sexual harassment. These examples are just scratching the surface. The bottom line is that any comment of sexual nature that makes someone feel uncomfortable is harassment. After more than a year of revisions, the WSU Faculty Senate approved several changes in its sexual harassment policy. But only after several severe incidents occurred that reflected poorly on the university was the policy revised, and not all that well. Integral safety policies such as these and the student conduct code, especially after this week’s events, should be in a perpetual state of evaluation and not just come under fire after they fail to work. According to the Monday edition of The Daily Evergreen, the new policy is said to more clearly outline and define sexual harassment, include an intermediary step for reporting incidents and also include a consensual relationship policy, which prohibits supervisor-subordinate relationships. According to the updated CHR Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy: “Sexual harassment encompasses unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors or requests for sexual favors in exchange for some benefit, and/or unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature by a male or a female. Sexual harassment occurs when: … a behavior is sufficiently severe and pervasive to interfere with any individual’s work or educational performance, or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment.” Even though the policy claims to more clearly define sexual harassment, it is still too vague and needs more revision.

Proposing an intermediary step encouraging students to talk with trusted supervisors is a good idea that might help to protect the victim, but is not the best way to address the problem. It seems as if this step is in place to police the validity of reported incidences before beginning a formal investigation. However, this is not the time to question if sexual harassment actually occurred. Anyone who is willing to report sexual harassment has been affected by it, and in all cases it is a legitimate concern. The victim is seeking help and deserves results and action. Some supervisors might not understand sexual harassment themselves, and dissuade the subordinate from reporting the incident. Directly reporting to the CHR should be encouraged. The center and its employees should be the ones to judge how the situation is handled. If an incident is not reported and the perpetrator is not made aware of her or his insensitive behavior, harassment will most likely continue and affect others. Sexual harassment needs to be halted before it even starts. The policy does not recommend a way to do this. Some people might not even know that their behaviors are considered sexual harassment. Training could help to stop occurrences of this nature. Every individual – students, faculty and staff – should be required to take a training course on what sexual harassment is and how to stop it. No one should feel uncomfortable in her or his own environment. No one has the right to make another feel threatened there, either. This is our campus, a place we call home for a significant period of our lives. Pullman is where we discover more about ourselves and become aware of the repercussions of our actions. This is the time and place when we need to learn about the severity of sexual harassment.