Has sexual harassment become a conventional pastime? 

Sexual Harassment:

It’s Around the Corner

In the present day, it can be said that our society has made incredible progress on combating the ongoing issue of sexual harassment. The term “sexual harassment” was not given to the concept until recently, although it had always occurred (Bingham 18). Therefore, the concept had no social existence in the public until it was named and made known. As of now, surveys have been conducted, books have been written and published, and victims can now call hotlines or join support groups. We can recognize the wide range of actions that constitute as sexual harassment. We are aware of reasons as to why the harasser pursued the harassed. The damage to the victim that results in psychological effects has been publicized. Despite this great step forward, sexual harassment still remains a prevalent factor.[CS1]

According to Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of sexual harassment is, harassment (typically of a woman by a man) in a workplace or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances, obscene remarks, etc. What may surprise some is the wide range of the types of conduct considered sexual harassment. Free Advice Website reports that [CS2]“lewd remarks and language; offensive content in letters and notes; sexual propositions, insults, or threats; sexually-orientated demeaning names; persistent unwanted sexual attention; sexually suggestive sounds or gestures; displaying sexual material in the workplace; unwelcome touching or kissing; pressure for sexual favors; and coerced sexual intercourse” are all considered sexual harassment.

JMU students are no strangers to these types of behaviors. The results of a survey I conducted on a small portion of the JMU student community revealed that 84% of the respondents had been sexually harassed in one or more of the situations previously listed. Of that 84%, 95% were female. Being the target for sexual remarks and comments received the highest percentage for males and females alike, 55% and 95%. The next most frequent harassment for males was unwelcome touching which tallied up to 44%. For females, leering and whistling was the next most frequent, which was 63%. Nearly three fourths of the female respondents had been subject to unwanted touching and 40% had been pressured for sexual favors.

All of the respondents agreed that sexual harassment was unwanted offensive sexual behavior that made someone uncomfortable, yet there were different views on which conducts the respondent personally believed should be considered sexual harassment. Almost all of the respondents said that touching and beyond (sexual favors and forced intercourse) was sexual harassment, but in other areas such as sexual demeaning names and persistent unwanted sexual attention, the numbers waned: only 43% for the former and 50% for the latter.

This passive attitude towards sexual harassment continues in the correlation between what the respondent thought was sexual harassment and what situation he or she would actually feel discomfort in. [CS3]Omitting the results for forced intercourse, there is a steady increase between these two sections. For females, 96% thought unwelcome touching was sexual harassment, but only 83% said they would feel uncomfortable by it. A similar trend can be seen in the male respondents towards unwelcome touching: 78% said it was sexual harassment, but only a little more than half said that it would cause them discomfort. The survey results reveal that many people either feel comfortable in those situations or have just accepted their occurrence and don’t take it seriously.

For those who would feel uncomfortable in situations of sexual harassment, many would choose not to report it [CS4](again, omitting forced intercourse). The survey results show a decrease in numbers from the discomforting action to it being reported for both sexes, but more so for females. Of the 65% of females that would feel uncomfortable if they received letters or emails with sexual content, only 35% would report it. While 91% felt discomfort if they were pressured for sexual favors, a mere 56% would report it.

One of the major problems that sexual harassment causes in its victims is the fear of reporting it, which can be seen in the survey results above. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 59% of rapes went unreported as seen on a statistical average over the past five years. Some reasons for not reporting rape included that the victim felt that the rape was a “personal matter,” fear of reprisal, a belief that the police wouldn’t take the issue seriously or would be biased, fear of testifying about the victim’s sexual life, and fear of getting in trouble for doing something that the victim wasn’t permitted to do when the assault took place, such as consumption of drugs or alcohol. In accordance with the survey I conducted, the respondents wouldn’t report sexual harassment because of embarrassment, fear of reprisal from the harasser, fear of getting a friend in trouble, and indifference. Of all those reasons, the vast majority of the respondents, 87%, said that if they wouldn’t report a sexual harassment circumstance in which they felt uneasy, it would be because of indifference. Some wrote that they would be indifferent to reporting it if they believed that the issue wasn’t serious enough or if it was going to be a hassle and just wasn’t worth the time.

When looking around at our culture, it’s evident where these views on nonchalance originate. Unfortunately in this world, women bear most of the pressures enforced by the media such as being featured in skimpy undergarments in an advertisement. We view these kinds of images everyday, and while we may not believe they have an effect on us, they do. These images of our culture project the message that it’s acceptable to dress this way and act that way. Though this may not seem like sexual harassment as these people are making a profit from it, it gives others reasons to act accordingly and therefore enforces that kind of behavior. At a party once, I witnessed a guy spank a girl wearing skin-tight jeans. He gave the excuse that she was asking for it dressed like that. The girl looked in his direction, but then kept walking. After joining a cluster of friends, she exposed her true feelings: flattery.

When asked about sexual harassment, Matt Hudson, ’11, said, “Women should not have to settle or be okay with what anyone says or does to them. It’s very unfortunate that women are brought up thinking that ‘that’s just the way it is.’ It’s been engraved in young women’s heads that guys are just joking or flirting. This might be the case but in some situations, women can’t differentiate between flirting and being objectified.” So now, not only is there a lack of concern when females are sexually harassed, but also a sense of flattery.

In society today, people overlook sexual harassment as a topic that doesn’t deserve their undivided attention. Only 52% of the respondents of the survey knew of any resources available to JMU students who had been sexually harassed, and that was mostly the group One in Four. One in Four, formerly known as No more, is comprised of all males who strive to educate themselves and other males on how to reduce sexual assault and rape. Besides One in Four, JMU has numerous other clubs as well as an Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and a Women’s Resource Center. [CS5]The Rape Aggression Defense System, known as the R.A.D. System, provides information for women about sexual assault awareness and prevention, as well as offers a course on self-defense. CARE, or the Campus Assault ResponsE, is the sexual assault hotline. CCAA, known as the Community Coalition on Alcohol Abuse, is a group devoted to decreasing underage drinking and alcohol abuse. M.E. is the Madison Equality club dedicated to providing support for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender students.

Despite JMU’s abundance in support groups and its effort to spread awareness about the issue, its students are becoming more and more passive towards sexual harassment. The most important piece of information gained from the survey showed that most of the offenses considered sexual harassment aren’t even acknowledged as harassment by students. For those offenses that actually put some in a state of uneasiness, reporting the actions isn’t even an option due to the expected embarrassment. Hopefully, we can begin to see the seriousness and the presence of this issue and take advantage of the numerous resources available.[CS6] 


Bingham, Shereen. Conceptualizing Sexual Harassment as Discursive Practice. Connecticut: Praeger Publishers: 1994.

Free Advice. 1995-2007.

Office of Sexual Assault Prevention. 2007. 24 Nov. 2007

Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press: 2007. 15 Oct. 2007

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. 2006. 16 Oct. 2007


 [CS1]I decided to end the first paragraph here because I felt that I was presenting too much information in the intro if I had left the oxford definition connected to it. The intro, therefore, ends on the idea that I wanted to stress, that sexual harassment is still present despite all of our advancements in trying to reduce it.

 [CS2]I condensed the original list from this website so that it wasn’t as extensive, but still included the necessary information.

 [CS3]I added in this transitional sentence to continue down the path of the apparent indifference towards sexual harassment. This opens up to the indifference towards the discomfort people feel when they are harassed due to the fact that they usually don’t consider it harassment anyway (as said in the previous paragraph).

 [CS4]Instead of just immediately jumping into my survey results, I added in a transition between the high comfort level of people targeted for sexual harassment and those who felt discomforted and why most wouldn’t report it.

 [CS5]One of my survey questions was to list any known resources at JMU for students who had been sexually harassed. Besides just proving a point that not many are aware of all the support groups, I added in a few groups and a brief blurb on them.

 [CS6]I expanded a lot on the conclusion because the previous one really only mentioned the lack of knowledge of the sources at JMU. In the revised conclusion, I summed up the information that best supported my argument that was gained from the survey.

take me back home!