Why Sexual Harassment Happens

5 min

You might have heard by now that sexual harassment isn’t just about sex. It’s about power. But what does that really mean?

Here’s an example.

Sexual harassment is often more about power than sex.

And understanding that reality helps you create a culture where sexual harassment doesn’t happen.

Think about it:


If sexual harassment is about power, not sex, then common excuses, like “She led him on,” don’t have as much sway.

And harmful stereotypes, like “Men are obsessed with sex,” can’t be used to justify sexual harassment, because it’s often not even about sex.

What’s more, sexual harassment almost always happens between people who have an uneven power dynamic: the boss and the employee, the coworker in the "in" group and the person new to the company.

People with power (like bosses) use sexual harassment to maintain their power.


And it’s a vicious cycle
: the more power they gain, the easier it is for them to harass.

So instead of thinking of sexual harassment as desire gone wrong or mixed signals or just general bad behavior, think about it like bullying: someone putting someone weaker in their place.

Time for a quiz.

Your manager is currently suspended for kissing your colleague against her will at an office party. Your coworker Cassie thinks this is just a case of “mixed signals.” Why might she be wrong?

Quiz 1 of 1

Your coworker Cassie thinks your boss’s suspension for kissing a colleague is just a case of “mixed signals.” Why might she be wrong?

a
She's not wrong. There was no way for her boss to know he shouldn't have done it.
b
She’s wrong because your boss and your colleague have an uneven power dynamic that your boss took advantage of.
c
She’s wrong because kissing someone you work with is always inappropriate.
d
She's wrong. Sexual harassment happens when someone acts on unrequited sexual desire.

It’s important to know why sexual harassment really happens so you can combat it and create a culture where it doesn’t happen.

Lesson complete

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