How to recognize and fight sexual harassment

Chances are that by the time you are twenty you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual harassment. This column reviews the law regarding sexual harassment on the job and in school and explains what to do if it happens to you.

Sexual harassment is a deliberate or repeated unwanted sexual behavior which includes everything from sexual innuendoes to forced sexual relations. Sexual harassment may include, but is not limited to, the following: verbal harassment or abuse; subtle pressure for sexual activity; remarks about a person’s clothing, body or sexual activities; leering or ogling someone’s body; unnecessary touching, patting or pinching or hugging; demands for sexual favors accompanied by implied or overt threats concerning an individual’s employment or student status, sexually suggestive objects, songs, magazines or pictures in the workplace or in the classroom; subtle or direct threats or suggestion that a social relationship is a mandatory part of a person’s job or course work; explicit offers of money for sex. No matter what your sex, age, lifestyle, or marital status, you could be a victim of sexual harassment.

In the workplace, sexual harassment is unlawful sex discrimination under the following circumstances; A) when submission to sexual conduct is made an implicit or explicit term or condition of an individual’s employment; B) when submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals; C) when the conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment. Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Illinois Human Rights Act were enacted to eliminate sex discrimination in the workplace. These laws apply to employers who employ 15 or more employees within Illinois for 20 or more calendar weeks, governmental agencies, and parties to public contracts, without regard to the number of employees.

Sexual harassment in public higher education is unlawful under both Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Sexual harassment in higher education is defined as any of the following: A) an unwelcome sexual advance, B) a request for sexual favors made to a student by a higher education representative, C) any conduct of a sexual nature exhibited by a higher education representative toward a student when the conduct 1) has the purpose of substantially interfering with the student’s educational performance, or, 2), creates an intentionally hostile or offensive educational atmosphere, or, 3), when submission to sexual conduct becomes a basis for determining a person’s admission, grades, class assignments or requirements, availability of scholarships, level of financial obligations, the quality of instruction one receives, or eligibility to participate in extracurricular activities. These laws cover all educational representatives, administrators, faculty, and employees—from a university president to students employed on a part time basis.

Actions you can take. You can take action to stop sexual harassment. Federal and state law and university policies protect victims of sexual harassment. If you do nothing, the offender will likely continue to violate your rights and the rights of others. In situations where you feel personally safe and without threat to your academic status or job, communicate clearly to the offender that his/her behavior is unwelcome and should cease immediately. Often an harasser takes silence as encouragement. Politely, firmly and explicitly tell the person that you are not interested. Tell the individual why you view the action as sexist. If you are uncomfortable doing this alone, consider going to the professor or employer with other people in the class or fellow employees.

Regardless of whether you decide to confront the perpetrator immediately, it is important to keep a record of what, when and where the harassment took place. Share your experience with a friend, colleague or counselor. This person can provide you with support and be a witness for you if you decide to pursue the matter.

If you are a victim of sexual harassment, we encourage you to assert your rights. Remember, the law protects you.

On-campus Resources:

NIU Affirmative Action Office—753-1118

NIU Counseling and Student Development Center—753-1206

NIU Judicial Office—753-1572

NIU Health Center—753-1311

University Resources for Women—753-0320

University Ombudsman—753-1415

Students’ Legal Assistance—753-1701

ff Campus:

Office of Civil Rights—(312)886-3456

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—(312)353-2713

llinois Department of Human Rights—(312)814-6200.

In Illinois you must file a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission or the DeKalb Human Relations Commission within 180 days of the sexual harassment.