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Western Kentucky University

Sexual Harassment Training

Sexual Harassment Myths and Facts

Myth: Some people ask to be sexually harassed. They do this with how they dress, or how they act. They send "signals."
Reality: Being subjected to sexual harassment is a painful, difficult, and frequently traumatic experience. Defenses such as "she wore provocative clothes" and "he enjoyed it" are neither acceptable nor accurate.

Myth: If a person really wanted to discourage, or stop, sexual harassment, they could.
Reality: Often, the harasser is in a position to punish the recipient by withholding a promotion, giving a bad evaluation, or giving a low grade. In this society, men are known to rationalize their actions by saying that a women's "no" is really a "yes." And often the harassment continues even after the victim despite the victims attempt to say "No" or stop the behavior.

Myth: Most charges of sexual harassment are false.
Reality: People have nothing to gain from making false accusations and filing false charges. It is very difficult to file sexual harassment charges, and "the system" can be very hostile to accusers. Confronting the issue can be both physically and financially draining. Usually, victims are traumatized further by the entire process. Often, the experience retaliation and backlash in the aftermath.

Myth: If you ignore sexually harassing behavior, it will eventually stop.
Reality: In a recent survey, only 29% of the women who said they tried to ignore the behavior said that it "made things better." Over 61% of the women said that telling the harasser to stop was the most effective method.

Myth: Only women are sexually harassed, this does not happen to men; and all sexual harassment perpetrators are male.
Reality: While women continue to be the majority of sexual harassment recipients, men do get harassed--by other men and by women. Currently, approximately 11% of EEOC claims involve men filing grievances against female supervisors. Also, increasing numbers of women are being sexually harassed by other women.

Myth: The seriousness of sexual harassment is exaggerated; most "harassment" is really minor, and involves harmless flirtation.
Reality: REAL sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate that most harassment has nothing to do with flirtation or sincere sexual or social interest on the part of the perpetrators. Sexual harassment is largely about control, domination, and/or punishment. Research shows that victims must often to leave school or jobs to avoid harassment. Many experience serious psychological and health-related problems. They may even be forced to relocate to other cities. (See Ellsion Vs. Brady and the "Reasonable Woman" Standard )

Myth: Any unwanted touch, sexual comments, or sexual attention is discriminatory and should immediately be considered sexual harassment.
Reality: Sexual harassment is not about sexual desire, and what bothers one person won't necessarily bother another person. In many cases, mild behavior is being labeled sexual harassment when it is really a matter of personal comfort, space, cultural difference, or even a simple miscommunication. In these cases, the recipient(s) needs to communicate their feelings about the behavior so that the person or people engaging in the behavior know this is offensive or unwanted. If the behavior continues even after there has been an attempt to resolve the conflict, this is an indication there could be a larger problem that involves discrimination or abuse.

Myth: We live in modern times, and sexual harassment is becoming less of a problem.
Reality: Sexual harassment affects 40 to 60 percent of working women, with similar statistics for female students in colleges and universities. 10-20% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Approximately 13,000 sexual harassment cases are brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year.

Myth: Sexual harassment is inevitable when people are working together.
Reality: While interactions between people may be inevitable, uninvited sexual overtures are not.

Myth: A harasser has to have sexual intentions towards their target for the behavior to count as sexual harassment.
Reality: Sexual harassment is discrimination and is a form of abuse, most commonly an abuse of power. The harasser's rationale does not change this fact. (See Oncale V. Sundowner )

Myth: Sexual harassment policies and legislation encourage a fear of sex, and demonizes behavior that is really normal between people.
Reality: Sexual harassing behavior may be common, but it is not "normal." Sexual harassment is not about sexual desire, at the core of the problem is abuse, particularly the abuse of power and authority. One would never say that racist acts are "normal," yet they are common, and are as harmful as sexual harassment. The issue is one of treating people with respect and dignity. That this does not always occur may be common, and may be human nature, but it is not "normal."


Myths and misconceptions about sexual harassment. Sexual Harassment Practice Group of Outten & Golden LLP. Retrieved April 25, 2012 from


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 Last Modified 9/24/14