What Is Considered A Harassment And When To Report

The different types of harassment and learn to protect yourself

By Evelyn
What Is Considered A Harassment And When To Report

Harassment Is Seldom Discussed Openly

Have you been a victim of harassment? Do you feel you're being harassed at work or at school or in your own home? Harassment is probably one topic most people avoid discussing. Why? Maybe because they are not totally clear what constitutes harassment or they are afraid to talk about it or are ashamed. Information is key to managing and solving issues like harassment. Having all the facts about what it is, some examples, and what can be done to stop it is key to encourage discussion about it so that more people can become aware of the issue. This way they can take the power from the harasser and do something about it.

Let's explore a little bit more about what is consider harassment so that you can help make some change by not being a topic seldom discussed openly. Harassment covers a wide range of behaviors that are, in its nature, offensive. Commonly these behaviors are meant to demean, humiliate, or embarrass a person and are identified as being unreasonable socially and morally. Harassment may come in many forms and from many sources. It could be verbal or physical, it can be done face-to-face or via text or mail or phones. The common thread in all the forms and sources, to be considered harassment, is that it's intentional and repetitive. 

In the legal sense, the behaviors appear disturbing, upsetting, and/or threatening. Legally, a behavior must be intentional for it to be considered harassment. This means that if you want to bring charges for criminal intent, you'll have to prove that the person harassing you did it in an effort to cause you distress, or that he or she willfully committed an act knowing that it'll cause you distress. Also, an isolated incident does not constitute harassment, it has to be a repetitive behavior. A one-time thing, like your ex-boyfriend planting a spider inside your mailbox knowing that you're terrified of them, is not harassment... if he does it on a weekly basis causing you to live in fear of thrusting your hand inside the mailbox, that's harassment.

Harassment also comes in many forms. Sadly, people have found many ways to engage in disturbing and threatening behaviors. They can do it face-to-face, which is a more direct approach and easier to identify. They can also do it by phone, those disturbing repetitive phone calls where nothing is said could be considered harassment. They can do it by text messages or by mail too. Disturbing notes deliver in your mailbox or in your inbox is also a form of harassment. 

Discussing harassment in the workplace or at school has to happen in a safe environment, where the person reporting the harassment can feel safe. Defining exactly what behaviors are considered harassment could also make things easier because this can help to enforce policies to prevent harassment. These policies or guidelines need to be communicated to everyone involved and they have to be clearly explained so that everyone can be on the same page. 

The Types of Harassment

You know when you feel violated, right? That's the case for most people. The thing is that is a lot harder to give a formal definition of it and it's really tough to know what to do about it. The victim of harassment could feel reluctant to do something about it, like report it or talk to someone about what to do to stop it. One thing you can do to feel empowered is understanding the different types of harassment. The following are some legal definitions of different types of harassment that can occur in school, at work, or at home.

Hostile Environment

This type of harassment creates a hostile environment for the person being harassed. It's a type of criminal harassment and it occurs, for example, when a school or a place of work denies a person's right to reasonable accommodations or when it allows derogatory or abusive comments about a person to persist. 

Quid Pro Quo

This term means "something for something" and it describes the expectations put on someone in exchange to do something else (in some cases it could be something illegal). This type of harassment occurs when, for example, at work, a supervisor or a manager offers a promotion in exchange for sexual favors. The quid pro quo is not always of a sexual nature. 


Retaliation occurs when somebody speaks out about harassment or other kinds of perceived injustices. This person who spoke out may experience varied types of punishments. For example, he or she could be given harder jobs or chores, he or she can suffer abuse from coworkers, fellow students, or peers.

Sexual Harassment

This type of harassment falls under civil harassment and it includes any harassment based on the person's sexual orientation, pregnancy status, gender identity, and expression. 

Criminal Harassment

This type of harassment includes certain classes and characteristics that are protected against harassment under federal law. These include race, national origin, color, religion, sex, age, or disability. 

Harassment in School

Sadly, harassment in school happens more than what reports said. One of the most common types of harassment that kids, teens, and young adults suffer in school is sexual harassment. The impact of harassment and assault is definitely damaging. The effects are both physical and psychological. It contributes to creating a hostile and unsafe space for the student and it impacts his or her ability to learn and attend school.  According to a study in 2011, 48% of middle and high school students reported being targets of sexual harassment. Many of these students didn't want to go to school, they felt physically ill and were having trouble studying and sleeping. 

There are some behaviors that people may think are not harassment but they actually are. Here are some examples that could happen in school and that you should be aware of so you don't let it happen or you can report it to stop it, 


  • Snapping a girl's bra straps to get her attention, to intimidate, or to flirt with her. This is considered physical harassment whether it's done to pick on a girl or to flirt with her.
  • Gossiping and spreading rumors about someone. Gossip happens at school and at work too. These places can be filled with gossip and it may seem harmless, but gossip can actually affect a person's ability to feel safe, welcome, and productive so it can be considered harassment.

Harassment at Work

Understanding the different types of harassment that can happen at work is going to help maintain a safe working environment for the employer and can also protect the company or the institution from liability. Harassment at work consists of unwelcome and offensive behavior and it can come from a co-worker, a supervisor, a boss, a client, or a vendor. Here are some examples so you can recognize them if they happen at your workplace so you know what to do to stop them.

  • A supervisor losing patience with an older employee for not understanding technology. This is considered discriminatory harassment, a situation where the employee feels attacked for belonging to a protected class. The supervisor instead of providing additional training gives the older employee fewer hours.
  • Romantic or sexual behavior toward someone who is clearly uncomfortable and doesn't want this kind of attention. This badgering from the harasser after the victim has turned him or her down is considered sexual harassment.
  • Exploiting customer-worker power imbalance. The customer is NOT always right. Workers can be harassed by customers however, they may not want to speak out afraid of causing a scene or losing their jobs. Workers don't have to accept this type of harassment, they should investigate and resolve the situation.

Harassment at Home

Harassment at home is a form of domestic abuse which is an attempt by one person in an intimate relationship or a marriage to dominate and control the other. It can escalate from threats and verbal assault to violence. Domestic abuse is not just physical, it can be emotional and or psychological. 

  • Physical abuse occurs when physical force is used against a person to cause injuries or even put his or her life in danger. Shoving, pushing, throwing objects to cause intimidation, disrupting his or her sleeping patterns to make them feel exhausted are all forms of physical abuse.
  • Emotional abuse aims to chip away independence and self-worth. Name-calling, making humiliating remarks, yelling, manipulation, putting-down in front of other people, are just some examples.
  • Stalking by a partner or an ex-partner. This is considered home harassment when a partner or ex-partner demands your time after you made it clear you didn't want any contact. It includes making unwanted visits or sending unwanted messages; following you or keeping track of your movements by installing a GPS (without your knowledge or consent) in your vehicle; embarrassing you in public,

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Information is the key to make harassment a very talked-about issue. Get informed about what constitutes harassment at work, at school, and at home. This way you'll know what to in case you start suffering it or you're witness to harassment.