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Five Myths about Sexual Harassment

There are many misconceptions regarding sexual harassment, often fueled by the stories that make it into the news. Let's take a closer look at some of the facts.

Myth #1:

Sexual harassment is rare. I don't know anyone who has been harassed.


Studies show that 40 to 60 percent of working women have experienced some form of harassing behavior. Similarly, as many as 60 percent of all college students have reportedly experienced some form of harassment based on gender.

Myth #2:

Only young, attractive, seductively dressed women are sexually harassed.


Sexual harassment cuts across age, appearance, gender, marital status, occupation, race and socioeconomic status. Remember, this is not about sex—it's about power. No one asks to be harassed, regardless of the way they look.

Myth #3:

People who feel harassed are just thin-skinned. Or they have no sense of humor.


It is true that people don't all react the same way; some people may find a certain behavior unwelcome, while others do not. But a determination of sexual harassment does not rely solely on a subjective judgment as to what is unwelcome or offensive. The courts also enforce an objective standard for determining that conduct is sexual harassment—that is, a reasonable person would also find the conduct unwelcome under similar circumstances. In a civil society, the fact that all people do not react the same way means that we each need to be aware of how our behavior affects others around us.

Myth #4:

Most of this conduct is harmless flirtation or just plain trivial.


While the harasser may think it's "all in fun," or "romantic," that is not the way the victim experiences the behavior. Because it is unwanted attention, it commonly results in serious psychological stress or physical illness. The victim may even feel it necessary to make major life changes—like changing majors or changing jobs—in order to avoid the harassment.

Myth #5:

Sexual harassment will go away if you just ignore it.


Research has shown that simply ignoring the behavior is ineffective. Harassers like the power and will rarely stop on their own. They may even see silence as agreement or encouragement. And often harassers do not stop with only one victim. So it is important to address the behavior in some way. The director of MU Equity is available to help you figure out what you should do if you're feeling harassed.

Published by the MU Equity Office, 401C Jesse Hall, Columbia, MO 65211   |   PHONE 573-882-9069   |   FAX 573-884-4103   |   E-MAIL equity@missouri.edu
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Last Updated: April 20, 2011