Sexual Violence & Harassment Awareness, Prevention & Response site
UW System Title IX Coordinator Council
Q. How do I know if someone’s conduct will qualify as “unwelcome”?
A. In general, unwelcome sexual conduct may be, but is not limited to, any of the following acts or behaviors that are not explicitly invited by the recipient: unwanted sexual advances, subtle or overt pressure for sexual activity, unnecessary or unwanted touching, stalking, sexually suggestive displays, deliberate molestations, demands for sexual favors, promises of gifts in exchange for sex, lurid telephone calls, obscene messages and e-mails, or being improperly followed or watched by an instructor, employer or peer.
Q. If I am uncomfortable with someone’s sexual conduct toward me, what should I do?
A. If someone is saying or doing something of a sexual nature that may be inappropriate or unwelcome, you are encouraged to tell him or her that you are uncomfortable with that behavior and/or disapprove of it. However, if you are unwilling or afraid to do so, you should report the behavior to your supervisor, Human Resources, the appropriate office designated by campus policy, a co-worker or a friend. No matter what, take steps to stop the harassment.
Q. If I think I have been subjected to sexual harassment, what should I do?
A. You should immediately notify your supervisor, Human Resources, the office designated by campus policies, a trusted faculty member or someone who can help you.
Q. If I make a complaint of sexual harassment, will my complaint remain confidential?
A. No. Although every effort is made to handle harassment complaints in a confidential manner, it is generally necessary to provide information to other relevant persons to effectively investigate the complaint. In addition, the alleged harasser has a right to know the details of the complaint in order to adequately respond, such as the nature of the alleged harassment.
Q. May a supervisor choose not to investigate a sexual harassment complaint on the basis of protecting the confidentiality of those involved?
A. No. Supervisors are required to investigate and address a complaint of harassment or refer it to the appropriate office for investigation.
Q. Can a hostile work environment arise on the basis of only one incident?
A. Yes, but this is rare. It only occurs if the incident is sufficiently severe so as to alter or change the terms or condition of the work or academic environment.
Q. Is it sexual harassment for an instructor to display a sexually explicit picture during a lecture?
A. Not necessarily. In limited circumstances, sexually explicit material or other forms of expression with the potential for hurting or offending members of the university community may nevertheless be part of meaningful discourse in the classroom. Where such material has no educational purpose, it is more likely to be deemed unlawful.
Q. What is sexual assault?
A. Sexual assault is a criminal act. It occurs when an individual is forced, threatened or coerced into sexual contact against his or her free will or without his or her consent. Sexual assault may include date or acquaintance rape, sexual molestation, unwanted sexual touching or having sexual contact with a person while knowing or having reason to know that the person is incapacitated in some way (i.e., due to drugs or alcohol). Sexual assault is one of the most extreme forms of sexual harassment. A person should seek and obtain unmistakable, clear consent from the other person before engaging in any form of sexual activity or behavior.
Q. What should I do if I think I was sexually assaulted?
A. If you believe you have been a victim of sexual assault, your first priority is to get to a safe place. Then, immediately contact the police or dial 911. It may be helpful to contact a trusted friend or family member to be with you during the investigation into the incident. You may also contact a campus official, such as your supervisor, the Dean of Students, the Affirmative Action Office or any other official who can help you. No matter what, reach out and get the help you need.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. State and federal law prohibit sexual harassment both in the workplace and in the academic environment. Board of Regents Policy 14-2 requires each campus in the UW System to implement a process to address allegations of sexual harassment, as well as offer educational programs informing employees and students about sexual harassment, and the applicable procedures, sanctions and remedies against it. While this section focuses on sexual harassment, please keep in mind that harassment in any form and on any basis is inappropriate and should be reported.
EMPLOYMENT: Sexual Harassment
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful to discriminate against an individual in any aspect of employment on the basis of a person’s sex. This includes sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature or unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment includes conduct directed by a person at another person of the same or opposite gender. “Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” includes, but is not limited to, the deliberate, repeated making of unsolicited gestures or comments of a sexual nature; the deliberate repeated display of offensive sexually graphic materials which is not necessary for business purposes; or deliberate verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, whether or not repeated, that is sufficiently severe to interfere substantially with an employee’s work performance or to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. There are two forms of sexual harassment – quid pro quo and hostile environment.
Quid Pro Quo
The term “quid pro quo” refers to gaining a favor or advantage in exchange for something. In terms of sexual harassment this refers to situations in which a person is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances by a supervisor or faculty member and is led to believe that submitting to the advances will result in some sort of professional or academic advancement. In other words, the victim is forced to choose between submitting to sexual demands or suffering a negative action in his or her employment or academic pursuits. While less common today, quid pro quo harassment does still occur.
The term “hostile work environment” refers to situations in which the hostile, intimidating or offensive conduct of another unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or a student’s academic learning environment. The conduct must objectively be sufficiently severe and pervasive to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. Harassment is severe and pervasive when it occurs frequently, entails humiliation or physical threats, or unreasonably interferes with the victim’s work performance or academic learning. Examples of a hostile environment may include unwelcome touching, suggestive jokes, comments or materials, uninvited sexual solicitations, intimidating words or acts, or display of pornographic materials. On the other hand, infrequent or minor offensive remarks will usually not rise to the level of a hostile environment.
The conduct does not necessarily have to be sexual in nature to constitute harassment. Any unwelcome conduct directed at a person because of his or her gender may constitute harassment. The law also recognizes a cause of action for same-sex harassment, or harassment based on other characteristics such as race and national origin.
Under both quid pro quo and hostile environment theories, the issue turns on whether an unwanted sexual behavior, conduct or condition has been imposed on a person’s employment or academic environment on the basis of his or her gender. For any type of sexual harassment, a victim’s toleration of or submission to the harassment does not bar a claim of harassment. If the conduct is unwelcome and has a demonstrated effect on an employee’s conditions of employment or a student’s academic pursuits, it may constitute unlawful sexual harassment.
Harassment by Supervisor
An institution may be legally accountable for sexual harassment committed by supervisory personnel under the theory that the supervisory personnel is acting on behalf of the institution. Upon being notified of harassment, an institution must promptly respond to any instance of alleged sexual harassment. An institution may be legally accountable for sexual harassment committed by its supervisory personnel under a hostile environment theory if it fails to exercise due diligence and reasonable care to prevent, respond to and correct such harassment. However, an institution may avoid liability if it takes prompt remedial action in response to harassment and if the alleged victim fails to follow the institution’s policies and/or fails to take advantage of available preventive or corrective measures.
Harassment by Co-Workers
If an employee claims he or she was harassed by one or more co-workers, an employer may be liable if management knew or should have known of the alleged sexual harassment, and failed to take prompt remedial action. Once an employer has actual notice (victim files complaint) or constructive notice (employer should have known of harassment based on conduct and actions of both victim and harasser) of harassment by a co-worker, the employer (or the employer’s agent) must take corrective measures which are reasonably calculated to end the harassment. For example, the employer may change the victim’s or alleged harasser’s work schedule to avoid ongoing harassment and/or place the alleged harasser on leave pending an investigation. The employer should ask a victim his or her preferred remedy; however, it is the employer’s legal responsibility to make the final decision as to what action to take in order to appropriately and effectively respond to the harassment and implement measures to prevent and remedy any harassing behavior.
It is unlawful to take adverse action against an employee for reporting sexual harassment, filing a complaint or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment. This protection applies even if the investigation reveals a lack of sufficient evidence to prove that harassment occurred.
STUDENTS: Sexual Harassment
Title IX of the Education Amendment Act, prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. Under Title IX, it is unlawful, on the basis of sex, to exclude from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Specifically, a university official, employee or fellow student is prohibited from harassing a student on account of his or her sex. An institution may be liable for sex discrimination under Title IX if an appropriate official has notice of the harassment and fails to adequately respond to such harassment. Regent Board policy requires that institutions promptly investigate and address all reported instances of student harassment and/or discrimination. See also Board of Regent Policy 14-2.