Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome comments and/or actions directed at someone (or about someone) because of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Jokes about someone’s appearance, participating in rumours about someone’s sexuality or perceived sexual skill, unwanted solicitations or sexual advances, demanding hugs or invading personal space, and derogatory language can all be forms of sexual harassment. The Ontario Human Rights Code recognizes that harassment occurs on a spectrum, from overt displays of sexual behaviour to much more subtle forms of harm.
It is important to remember that sexual harassment is not simply a matter of misdirected flirting, although that may be used to excuse such behaviour. Harassment, much like the schoolyard bullying we see in children, is about power. Sometimes harassment and other forms of gender-based violence come from people who already have power (for example, managers harassing their employees, or landlords harassing their tenants). Other times, such actions are the result of people feeling like they don’t have power and therefore choosing to make other people feel small in order to make themselves feel bigger.
You have the right to live free from sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. The Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) offers legal protection from sexual harassment in employment, education, and housing. For more information on your rights, and how to address sexual harassment that you may be experiences, click here. For more information on support services available to you at Anova if you’re experiencing harassment at home, work, or school, click here.