Sexual Harassment Policies On Campus

Recently, I was involved in an effort to revise my college’s sexual harassment, rape, and abuse policies, which means that I spent like eighty hours sitting in various rooms having meetings with people. (And also the policy is 100% gender-neutral and includes envelopment as rape. Say thank you.) In the process of doing this, I discovered that some of the common Internet ideas about sexual harassment law aren’t actually true.

Note: throughout this article, I will specifically be discussing sexual harassment policies at schools. While sexual harassment policies in the workplace are probably substantially similar, I didn’t actually spend a month studying them and therefore do not feel qualified to comment.

Sexual harassment law does not criminalize flirting. Actually, let me bold this for the Redditors in the back complaining about how they can’t hit on women at work anymore: sexual harassment law does not criminalize flirting. 

For instance, let’s say you wanted to ask someone out on a date! According to the Office of Civil Rights’s guidance on sexual harassment policies, it does not count as sexual harassment unless it’s threatening or intimidating or, in some circumstances, repeated. So, uh, don’t intimidate people, and don’t ask people out fifteen times on the off chance that they will change their minds.

Or let’s say that you wanted to comment that someone had a nice ass. That, too, would not be sexual harassment, unless it got to the point that it would interfere with a reasonable student’s education. Random comments about the niceness of someone’s ass, okay; multiple people commenting every day, throughout the school, for months, about the niceness of someone’s ass, not okay.

Or let’s say you wanted to send someone flowers and they didn’t want them! This is specifically mentioned as not being sexual harassment. Now, this is weird to me, because I’m having a hard time figuring out in what circumstance you’d send someone a bouquet of a dozen roses if you weren’t aware of whether they would want the flowers, and if someone randomly sent me flowers I’d probably think they were kind of creepy. But nevertheless you can do that and it is not against any rules.

Or let’s say you’re a teacher and the kid skinned his knee and you hugged him! That is not sexual harassment, because it is legitimate nonsexual contact. Now, if you were repeatedly hugging your students on the slightest pretense in a really creepified manner, that would actually be sexual harassment.

Also, in order for something to qualify as sexual harassment, it has to be unwelcome. This is usually the point at which people say “See! Sexual harassment law is biased against unattractive men! Attractive men get away with everything and we unattractive men get scraps!” and then wander off muttering about alpha males. But sexual harassment has to create an unwelcome environment to count as sexual harassment. Most of the time, that means that the behavior has to be repeated. If you comment on someone’s shirt, and they say that they wish you wouldn’t, and then you stop, that’s not harassment. If you comment on someone’s shirt, and they say that they wish you wouldn’t, and you keep commenting on their shirt, that is harassment, and at that point the person’s right to a safe learning environment trumps your right to be Lord and/or Lady Douchington.

Now, there are circumstances in which a single act counts as sexual harassment. For instance, if you grab someone’s ass, tits, or genitals and it’s unwelcome! However, I do not think it is too much to expect that people make sure that their ass-grabbing is wanted before they go about grabbing other people’s asses willy-nilly. That is not too high an expectation.

Also, you know what’s cool? Sexual harassment does not just refer to flirting with people in ways they find uncomfortable, inappropriately sexualized classes when the sex does not relate to the subject of the class, and making people have sex with you for A’s. There’s also “gender-based harassment,” which refers to things like sabotaging all the women’s experiments or teasing a dude for not fitting your ideas of what men ought to be like.

Finally, I would like to point out that school-level sexual harassment policy guidance is remarkably gender-neutral. Most of the areas where it’s not gender-neutral reflect sexism in our society (which, for instance, views women’s breasts as more private than men’s chests) and not in the guidance itself. In fact, without sexual harassment law, there would be thousands of men who would be sexually harassed by women and who would have no recourse whatsoever. So. There’s that.

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About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.

Comments

  1. @AB: You are correct that the gap in sentencing is only a correlation and therefore can have many problems with it. To actually see what was up we would need to ask a bunch of judges the sentences they would give in hypothetical cases and flip genders. However, I note this also applies to pretty much every area of social sciences. Wage Gap? Just a correlation. Poor people getting longer sentences? Correlation. Blacks getting longer sentences? Correlation. Ad nauseum.
    Of course, I still think its pretty good evidence that discrimination is going on even if its not full-fledged proof. Of course, if you disagree, then I’ll just bring this up again when ever you refrence any correlations in the future.

  2. @NMMNG:
    “And as you said, women are considered as less threatening than men.”
    Soo… you are agreeing? I can’t really see this as anything other than agreement with my point that “woman are considered as less threatening than man”, which started this whole tangent… So are you agreeing with not placing threatening as a prerequisite of sexual harassement then too?

  3. @Lamech :
    I was talking about sentences when women commit crimes.

  4. I’m not going to say anything more about my school’s policies, because that’s information that might be used to figure out which school I go to, and my school ain’t big. :)

    I am sure everyone here does NOT mean to erase the reality that men get sexually harassed in their gendering of sexual harassment to “male-harasses-female” and “female-accuses-male-of-harassment.” After all, we have had this discussion a LOT about male survivors of abuse and rape and language that erases them; I am sure we do not need to have this conversation about male survivors of harassment too.

    Druk: When I described it as “school-level policy” I didn’t mean my school; I meant the legal policy that applies to schools.

  5. @RocketFrog:

    I wonder what can be done about the damage men are doing to society – as you point out, even female serial killers are acting on men’s initiative. Inhuman acts are almost always either perpetrated by males, or occasionally by women who have been tricked, pressured or manipulated into such things by males.

    Please stop.

    @pocketjacks:

    Sounds like an excuse being readied to dismiss a body of published work that you already suspect has discovered facts that you won’t like. Statistics in this area are no more hard to get accurate than in any other social science, which is always plagued by confounding variables.

    It was actually an example from this site which got me thinking about how subjective it is. There was a case where the involved male parties had been punished harder/stood to receive a harder punishment than the female accomplice.

    The article about the case mentioned that the female had been the only one to accept a plea bargain, and had furthermore testified against her accomplices, while all the males had resisted, and yet the conclusion from posters here was immediately that she must have gotten off easier because she was female. If that’s the way people think, I’m not surprised they find it so easy to find examples of women suffering fewer consequences just for being women.

  6. While I can certainly appreciate your concern about unwittingly revealing your school, ozy, I would have hoped that you would have been able to sufficiently ‘generalize’ your school’s approach towards burden of proof and the existence (or absence) of procedures to protect the defendant’s presumption of innocence to respond to the question. At the very least, it would have been nice to see some response to the very real issues created when schools move to the ‘preponderance of evidence’ burden of proof level which Hugh Ristik described in his excellent review of the issue, and an acknowledgment that fair and gender neutral policies (which are unmistakably a laudable step forward) can still be enforced in a sexist and unfair way.

    I am sure everyone here does NOT mean to erase the reality that men get sexually harassed in their gendering of sexual harassment to “male-harasses-female” and “female-accuses-male-of-harassment.”

    I don’t recall anyone having done this, but I haven’t read the earlier comments in a couple of days so maybe I’m forgetting something. However, I will point out that the offense of harassment is something which is almost invariably committed by the initiating party, and therefore the risk of being accused of that crime is disproportionately borne by men (just as the burden of being victimized by it is disproportionately borne by women). So, unfairly-applied or excessively punitive approaches to sexual harassment (even when such policies are strictly gender neutral) will disproportionately affect men (just as lax or non-existent enforcement of fair harassment policies will disproportionately affect women). Moreover, it would have been nice to see some acknowledgment of the likelihood that a woman’s harassment accusation against a man is probably much more likely to be believed that the reverse.

  7. Great comments, pocketjacks.

  8. What I like best about sexual harassment policies is that it has made sexual harassment taboo. My MIL was regularly groped by her boss and nobody (not even her husband) thought it was a big deal. Now it is a big deal, if not morally then at least because you can get sued for it. Sexual harassers are now a liability to themselves and to their employers and nobody wants that. I think sexual harassment policies will further help men in that they will bring to light the fact that men can ALSO be sexually harassed and this is EQUALLY wrong.

  9. Flyingkal says:

    @RocketFrog:

    Did you read about the Swedish party FI’s suggestion some years back, about introducing a “man tax”, which all males should pay to make reparations for men’s crimes against humanity and men’s cost to society? I sometimes think that such a policy would be the best way to at least make reparations.

    What both FI and you, together with most part of the swedish feminist movement, convenientally neglected to include in the equation, is the simpe fact that whichever way you prefer to count it, men are already paying more in taxes than women does.

    Apart from the problem that a suggestion like this would do less than nothing to solve the gender-binary, what do you deem would be an appropriate level of this “man tax?”, and what purpose would it serve?

  10. I think sexual harassment policies will further help men in that they will bring to light the fact that men can ALSO be sexually harassed and this is EQUALLY wrong.

    Er… but what about exposing the way women use male shaming at work? Which seems to be what men are, you know, speaking up about…

    What I like best about sexual harassment policies is that it has made sexual harassment taboo.

    That I do like. Let’s make male shaming taboo as well :)

  11. RocketFrog says:

    Flyingkal:

    I am neither Swedish nor a feminist.

    The stated purpose of FI’s proposed man tax was to force men to pay for the societal cost of men’s violence against women, rather than having everyone (including the victims themselves) pay.

    I am not sure about what would be an appropriate level. A flat tax would hit working-class and unemployed men disproportionately hard. Whether that would be fair, I suppose, then comes down to whether or not lower-class men are disproportionately more likely to commit violence against women. When the debate was still raging, FI argued for a progressive model, with a percentage that increased with income. Just like a normal income tax in Nordic countries, except paid only by men.

  12. “I am not sure about what would be an appropriate level. A flat tax would hit working-class and unemployed men disproportionately hard. Whether that would be fair, I suppose, then comes down to whether or not lower-class men are disproportionately more likely to commit violence against women. When the debate was still raging, FI argued for a progressive model, with a percentage that increased with income. Just like a normal income tax in Nordic countries, except paid only by men.”

    Was it to encourage unemployment, fiscal evasion or stay-at-home dads? Because no income = no tax, you see. Or maybe it was to encourage violence of men because they are mistreated by the system that people say can’t possibly mistreat them?

  13. dungone says:

    @Schala, or maybe it was to encourage more women to get into relationships with violent men – since the societal cost of their choices would be bore by men alone. Or maybe it was to reward women women who are violent towards men, since the vast majority of male DV is reciprocal.

  14. AB: did the male defendants get offered a similar plea bargain at all? As I recall, there’s something of a history of women defendants being offered plea bargains for crimes where a male defendant wouldn’t simply because they’re assumed to be less culpable and more sympathetic for gender-related reasons…

  15. jesus_marley says:

    @AB – “The article about the case mentioned that the female had been the only one to accept a plea bargain, and had furthermore testified against her accomplices, while all the males had resisted, and yet the conclusion from posters here was immediately that she must have gotten off easier because she was female.”

    My question here is this. Were the men offered the same plea deal as the female? If they were all offered the same bargain and the female took the deal, then there may be a valid argument here. but if the female was offered a better deal than the men, then the female did get off easier.

  16. @makomk:

    AB: did the male defendants get offered a similar plea bargain at all? As I recall, there’s something of a history of women defendants being offered plea bargains for crimes where a male defendant wouldn’t simply because they’re assumed to be less culpable and more sympathetic for gender-related reasons…

    I believe in the concrete case, the man/men pleaded not guilty. Considering how easy how often it seems people, including men, are offered plea bargains, I doubt they weren’t offered anything for cooperating, but since I’m not sure I can find the case (it seems almost impossible to search comments here), you’re welcome to speculate.

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