Sexual harassment is defined as sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, whether intentional or unintentional, where: … the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance, academic performance, or educational experience, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, or offensive working, educational, or living environment.
It is not possible to list all circumstances that might constitute sexual harassment. In general, sexual harassment encompasses any sexually related conduct which causes others discomfort, embarrassment, or humiliation, and any harassing conduct, sexually related or otherwise, directed toward an individual because of that individual’s sex.
A determination of whether conduct constitutes sexual harassment is dependent upon the totality of the circumstances, including the pervasiveness or severity of the conduct. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination lists the following examples of conduct which may constitute sexual harassment.
- Unwelcome sexual advances—whether they involve physical touching or not;
- Sexual epithets, jokes, written or oral references to sexual conduct, gossip regarding one’s sex life;
- Comment on an individual’s body, comment about an individual’s sexual activity, deficiencies, or prowess;
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or cartoons;
- Unwelcome leering, whistling, brushing against the body, sexual gestures, or suggestive or insulting comments;
- Inquiries into one’s sexual experiences; and
- Discussion of one’s sexual activities.