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I think I’m being harassed. What exactly is sexual harassment, and how can I make it stop?

Sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcome sexual attention (comments, looks, touching, rumors, etc.) that makes another person feel uncomfortable or prevents them from feeling safe in a place that they have to be, like school or work. Sexual harassment creates a “hostile environment” for the person who is experiencing it. With a hostile environment, it often becomes difficult for a person to be there.

Here are some examples of sexual harassment:

  • Someone talks or writes about another person’s body—focusing on the sexual parts—with others or in front of others.
  • Someone spreads rumors on Facebook about someone’s sexual orientation or things they’ve done sexually.
  • Someone pinches or touches another person’s butt or breasts as the person walks by.
  • Someone keeps asking another person for dates or to hook up, even after that person has said no many times before.
  • A group of people rates other people as they walk down the hallway.
  • A teacher demands sex in exchange for a passing grade.
  • A boss demands sex in exchange for a pay raise or different hours at a part- or full-time job.

Sometimes, people will act surprised when they’re told they are sexually harassing someone. But the person being harassed is the one who decides what feels like harassment.

How to Make It Stop

Most schools and work places now have policies against sexual harassment. Schools have a legal obligation to follow up on reports of sexual harassment, so that you have a safe environment in which to learn.

The first thing you should do if you are being harassed is tell the harasser that their behavior is not wanted and to stop immediately. If that doesn’t work, then take the following steps:

1. Tell an adult. It can be a parent, teacher, coach, family friend or someone else you trust. An adult can help you get to other adults who can make the harassment stop. Schools and places where people work must follow up on harassment reports.

2. Find out what your school’s sexual harassment policy is. Your school principal should have the policy in writing, and you are entitled to see it. Schools are legally obligated to respond when behavior violates their sexual harassment policy,

3. Keep records. Keep track—on a computer or in a notebook—of exactly what the person did. Include the date, time and place. Be sure to write down how you responded. This way you can show how long the harassment has been happening and how you’ve tried to make it stop.

If the adult you tell doesn’t do anything to make the harassment stop, keep telling other trusted adults until someone does something to make it stop. No one should have to put up with sexual harassment.

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