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What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. It consists of unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
When the harassment rises to the level that it interferes with employment or with education, then it becomes illegal and also violates the University's policy. But even lesser levels of sexually harassing behaviors may be inconsistent with UMSL’s commitment to a safe and inclusive work and learning environment.
Five Myths about Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment may occur regardless of the sex or the sexual orientation of the parties.
The harasser may be a person in a position of authority—an employee's supervisor, or a student's instructor. The actions of co-workers, students, or other third parties may also contribute to a hostile working or learning environment. Behavior may be harassing even if the person did not intentionally set out to harass anyone.
Because the nature of this harassment is sexual, it brings a highly personal element into what should be a professional relationship. It destroys the trust that is essential to good working and academic relationships. Even though sex is nominally the subject, the real issue is power. The harasser is asserting power over the victim by exposing him or her to unwanted attention.
Here are some examples of behaviors that may be sexually harassing:
- Leering or ogling
- Remarks of a sexual nature, such as comments about a person's clothing, appearance, or sexual experience
- Suggestive or insulting sounds
- Off-color jokes or obscene gestures
- Unnecessary touching, patting, hugging, or brushing against a person's body
- Statements or other indications that sexual favors will be rewarded with grades, favorable employment reviews, or other shows of partiality
- Direct or implied threats that submission to sexual advances is a condition of employment, work status, promotion, or grades
- Stalking, physical assault, or other similar criminal behaviors
What do I do if I think I am being sexually harassed?
- First and foremost, avoid blaming yourself. It is not your fault. Place the blame where it belongs—on the harasser. Self-blame may cause depression, and will not help you or the situation.
- Keep a diary or record of each incident. Include the date, time, place, witnesses, and descriptions of what happened and your response. Even if you don't proceed with a complaint, this process can help you clarify in your own mind what is happening.
- If you feel safe doing so, convey to the harasser that the behavior is unwanted and unacceptable. If you are unsure how to proceed, the director of the UMSL Office of Equal Opportunity & Diversity can help you assess the situation and decide what your next move should be. If you do decide to make your concerns known to the harasser, some sources suggest that you send a letter, by certified mail. Give the person a factual statement of what has occurred ("Last week when we were waiting for class to start, you told several dirty jokes") and your feelings about those events ("I was very upset; I felt humiliated and offended"). State explicitly what you want to happen next ("Please do not tell dirty jokes in class; I want to be treated with respect, not as a sex object"). You do not necessarily have to use the words "sexual harassment." The letter should not call for any discussion or explanation on the harasser's part; you are simply asking in a very civil tone for the behavior to stop. Because at this point you are trying to achieve a change in behavior without being perceived as threatening, do not copy anyone else initially. Do keep a copy of your letter in case your efforts do not effect positive change and you need to seek assistance to deal with the harassment.
- Stay healthy. If you are experiencing physical or psychological stress, seek out a physician or counselor. Make sure you get enough food, exercise and sleep.
- Talk to someone with the authority to investigate and remedy the situation. The official University contacts are listed below. Contact one of them directly or through a faculty member or an administrator in your department or in Jesse Hall. The University has both formal and informal complaint processes. Even if you don't want to file a formal complaint, there are some actions the University can take to address the harassment—but we can't act unless we know about the problem.
Note that some university personnel may have a duty to report discrimination. If you are concerned about confidentiality, be sure to ask the person whether you can speak to them in confidence and what action, if any, they are required to take after they talk to you.
- Know your legal rights. While we strongly encourage you to try the University process first, you do have other state and federal rights you can pursue. For links to the university policy and other resources, visit our (see Campus Policies page for changes) page.
Official University Contacts
Deborah J. Burris
Office of Equal Opportunity & Diversity
Director & Chief Diversity Officer/Title IX Coordinator
127 Woods Hall
St. Louis, MO 63121
Division of Student Affairs
Assistant Dean of Students/Title IX Coordinator
301 Woods Hall
St. Louis, MO 63121
Institutional Safety - Police
7700 Florissant Road
St. Louis, MO 63121
Director of Athletics
225 Mark Twain Building
St. Louis, MO 63121
426 Woods Hall
- UMSL Health, Wellness and Counseling Services
- UMSL Human Resources Department
- UMSL Multicultural Relations