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A Closer Look at Online Sexual Harassment

By Lee Davis

Sexual harassment is a big problem, across the country and across the globe. With the advent of the #MeToo movement, the problem is getting more and more attention. Moving into 2020, sexual harassment claims will likely continue to come to light. A 2018 study revealed that 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment at some time in their lives. 77% of women surveyed said that they had experienced verbal sexual harassment and 41% said they had experienced online harassment

Defining sexual harassment

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as any type of harassment that is made on the basis of someone else's sex. It does not have to include sexual comments or sexual advances. Employees are protected against sexual harassment under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A remark does not have to made directly to the victim to constitute as harassment. Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Unwanted physical contact

  • Unsolicited sexual remarks or advances

  • Derogatory or inflammatory remarks about a person on the basis of their gender (i.e. "A woman's place is in the kitchen.")

  • Telling jokes or stories with a direct or implicit sexual context

  • Requests for sexual favors

What about online sexual harassment?

While many people think of the physical workplace when they hear the term sexual harassment, the statistics show that sexual harassment is a serious problem online as well. This harassment can happen through emails, on social media, in online forums, or in online gaming communities. While some people may think that online harassment is not as serious as that which happens in person, it can be just as damaging. Common examples of online harassment include:

  • Making sexual comments or jokes in an online forum

  • Commenting on a person's looks or gender

  • Posting or sharing sexual images (whether implied or direct)

  • Exchanging or forwarding inappropriate pictures, text, or emails

Prevent disruption and harm to your community

When you have an online community, it's important that all members feel safe and free of harassment. Sexual harassment can create an atmosphere where members are afraid to engage in conversation or even visit your forum. When you see signs of sexual harassment, it's important to take steps to shut it down right away. 

The dangers of sexual harassment

Whether in person, or online, it's important to understand the consequences of sexual harassment. Victim's support agency RAINN reports that sexual harassment can affect a victim's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Some of the consequences of sexual harassment include:

  • Shame

  • Fear

  • Anger

  • Isolation

  • Humiliation

  • Sleep problems

  • Substance abuse

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

Online sexual harassment may not always be obvious. Sometimes you may not realize it is happening in your community until someone reports it. At this point, it may have finally reached its breaking point. And even still, many cases go unreported. A 2015 survey conducted by women's magazine Cosmopolitan found that one in three women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. Of those that said that they had been harassed, only 29% actually reported the harassment. Online, the number of unreported instances could be higher. 

How you can prevent sexual harassment

Sexual harassment happens everywhere. On the job, at the coffee shop, while gaming, and on dating apps. In every environment, this harassment is toxic. It creates a situation where men and women feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and angry. It creates hostility and stalls positive interactions and productivity. When you have an online environment, it's important to take the steps to protect your community. Setting rules and expectations regarding appropriate behavior is a good first step. 

Unfortunately, setting rules won't stop everyone. That's why you need to moderate your forum, reiterate expectations, and follow through with enforcing the rules. At Spectrum, our technology recognizes toxic behavior and takes steps to keep your community safe. We give you the tools to shut down harassment for good. It's time to make your community a safe place. Contact us today for more information.  

Learn more about how Spectrum Labs can help you create the best user experience on your platform.