Sexual harassment at work: what it is, examples and what to do about it

Sexual harassment at work is a form of violence, mainly suffered by women due to structural gender inequality. Although it is a very common type of work problem, few dare to report it, which could well mean that sexual harassment in the workplace is silent violence.

Below we will talk about sexual harassment at workhow it is considered that an act is properly this type of harassment and, according to Spanish law, what to do if you have been the victim of this type of violence.

    Sexual harassment at work

    Sexual harassment at work it is a form of workplace violence, the result of structural inequality between men and women. While it can affect both men and women, with both heterosexual and homosexual sexual harassment, the truth is that most of the victims are young women who have been harassed by men, usually in an employment situation. precarious. Among this group of women, factors such as their first job, being an immigrant, having a disability, belonging to an ethnic minority or having a temporary contract make harassment more likely.

    Sexual harassment at work is a reality, and women are the main victims. This happens in all the countries of the world but, to illustrate its seriousness, we are going to highlight some data from the case of Spain. According to data from the UGT (General Union of Workers) between 2008 and 2015, 2,484 women suffered some form of sexual harassment in their work. Only 49 convictions convicted the perpetrators. Although this is relatively outdated data, it serves to illustrate the gravity of the situation and how, despite being so commonplace, many women do not receive justice.

    In accordance with the provisions of article 184 of the Spanish Penal Code, we can define sexual harassment at work as any verbal or physical behavior, of a sexual nature, which has the purpose or effect of undermining the dignity of the person who is subjected to itgenerated in an intimidating, offensive or degrading context.

    The perpetrator of sexual harassment at work can be anyone in the victim’s professional environment. Not only can they be a colleague or their own boss, but they can also be customers or suppliers. Sometimes this sexual harassment is known to the rest of the victim’s work environment, but for various reasons they consciously ignore the situation.

    It is important to note that Sexual harassment at work is not considered gender-based violence. For this to be the case, this situation of harassment, harassment, sexualization, violence or any other type of sexual assault on the victim must be perpetrated by a man against a woman and the two have had a romantic relationship in the past or keep it.

      Types of sexual harassment at work

      There are two main forms of sexual harassment in the workplace.

      Sexual exchange or blackmail

      Sexual blackmail occurs when the stalker tries to condition the victim based on their response to their sexual innuendo. Depending on whether or not she is willing to satisfy his sexual demands, the harasser insinuates to his victim the beneficial or harmful repercussions that she could receive. This type of harassment is usually generated by a superior such as the boss.

        Environmental sexual harassment

        Environmental sexual harassment refers to the situation in which an intimidating, hostile, unpleasant or humiliating environment is created for the harassed person. According to Spanish law, the Constitutional Court considers that a case will be considered environmental sexual harassment if there are the following three factors:

        • There must be verbal or physical abusive behavior, manifested in actions, gestures or words.

        • It must be perceived by the recipient as unwanted and there must not have been any consent.

        • Sexually harassing behavior must be serious.

        • You may be interested: “The 4 phases of forensic psychological expertise (and its characteristics)”

        Examples of Sexual Harassment at Work

        Some common situations of sexual harassment are:

        • Send photos, videos, emails, messages, etc. to the victim, of a sexual nature, with explicit or implicit content.
        • Sexual and offensive phone calls.
        • Share private photos and videos of the victim with colleagues.
        • Blackmailing the person concerned with sexual content.
        • Constantly insinuating oneself towards a colleague
        • Treating the victim in a derogatory and obscene manner.
        • Rubbing, touching the private parts of the victim excessively and continuously.
        • Press or blackmail to date or date the victim.
        • Expressly requesting that you do her a sexual favor.
        • Sexualize this person by harming their performance at work and without their consent (eg jokes about their sexual condition, etc.).

        It is very important to understand that these situations will be considered sexual harassment in the workplace not only because they have a notorious sexual content and occur in the workplace, but especially when they are harmful to the victim, it indicates. -she. These situations must be offensive, intimidating, unwanted or directly or indirectly affect the performance and professional reputation of the victim who receives them..

        A case of sexual harassment at work does not cease to be due to the fact that the victim has not explicitly complained that he does not want to suffer from this situation. Although they do not want the situation to continue or to feel sexually harassed, victims may feel intimidated enough, either physically or verbally, to fear negative consequences if they dare to report, including the risk of being fired. , that the complaint turns against them, lose their social identity and professional reputation or ruin your career.

          Consequences of sexual harassment at work

          Sexual harassment, wherever it occurs, is still a type of violence and as such has a negative impact on the recipient’s life. In the case of what happens in the workplace, this it has several psychological consequences on both the professional and personal life of the victim.

          At work we have:

          • Lower productivity.
          • Greater absenteeism.
          • Continuous dismissals.
          • Conflicts in the work environment, both with colleagues and with customers.

          On a personal level, we find that the victim may have the following psychological problems.

          • Decline in self-esteem.
          • Feelings of guilt.
          • Depression and anxiety.
          • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
          • Sleep and rest problems.
          • Personality changes
          • Somatization of stress: headaches, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal problems, hypertension and increased propensity to fall ill.

          Being sexually harassed at work also worsens the victim’s personal relationships with family and friends.

            What if we experience sexual harassment at work?

            If you are a victim of sexual harassment at work or think you have been the victim of a malicious act, it is advisable to follow these steps.

            The first thing is to talk to the person who is harassing us, and state very clearly what the limits are. At best, the situation may have been a misunderstanding or the other party may have misinterpreted our interest in them, and by clarifying what you are not willing to tolerate, the issue is resolved at that point.

            However, many times this first step does not work. In the event that a co-worker is sexually harassing us, it is their job to tell our supervisor, or him or her, whichever we feel is most likely to end the situation. If our boss harasses us or if the complaint about our situation did not work, the next step would be to talk to the works council.

            If all the previous steps fail or there is no committee, the next step is to talk to a lawyer. It will be this professional who will give us more details on the next steps, legal and administrative, to take to put an end to the situation of sexual harassment at work of which we are victims and how to make the bully pay.

            Then we talk about the particular case of what is usually done in Spain. The legal means at their disposal are the following.

            1. Request the severance of the social bond

            By the social court, the termination of the employment relationship is requested (art. 50 of the workers’ statute). We will have:

            • Unemployment and compensation.
            • Right to claim compensation for injury or moral damage.

            2. Institute a lawsuit

            A complaint is filed. A labor inspection may be requested, which implies that an inspector will report to the company and issue an official report.

            3. File a complaint

            Spanish law states that sexual harassment at work is a crime, so this is something to report. He is sentenced to up to 2 years in prison (Art. 184 of the Penal Code).

              The psychological report of sexual harassment

              During the trial, in addition to the testimony of the victim and witnesses, as well as elements that can prove the case of sexual harassment, it is necessary to show that those who have been harassed suffer from psychological problems as a result of this type of violence. A lot of physical evidence is difficult to obtain because the stalkers make sure not to leave any traces, which is a real problem because if not enough evidence is collected, the whole legal process cannot lead to anything.

              To find out if there are psychological consequences to being sexually harassed at work, a psychological examination should be carried out. This is a report issued by a psychologist specializing in judicial and forensic proceedings. The psychologist will carry out an empirical and objective analysis of the victim and his professional and personal environment, specifying the following aspects in the report:

              • The work context: function in the company, activities he carries out, interlocutors, etc.
              • Personal background: age, gender, children, marital status, family responsibilities, etc.
              • The psychological implications of bullying for the person affected in their daily life
              • How these consequences affect your professional activity.

              To gather all this information, the victim is interviewed and subjected to the relevant psychological tests. Once all the information has been collected, a detailed report is drawn up on the professional and personal situation of the applicant. This report is considered important evidence before the courts, because they serve to scientifically prove that the victim was sexually harassed at work and that this affected him psychologically.


              Harassment of women at work is a reality that mainly affects women. Such situations have a very negative effect on your performance at work, your mental health and your personal relationships, but in many cases they do not dare to report or activate the procedure to curb the fear and intimidation they have received from their bully, accompanied by the fear of being fired or facing reprisals in the workplace.

              Despite this fear, the truth is that reporting is the most effective way to end workplace sexual harassment and have the perpetrator penalized up to 2 years in prison if proven and depending on the severity. harassment. . If you go through the legal process, all the means to prove the situation must be gathered, information which will be used to prepare a psychological expertise which will help the victim to obtain justice.

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