What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is one of many forms harassment can take. It is often described in the context of workplace, although sexual harassment may also take place in other environments, such as school, academia, volunteering communities, general social interaction spaces, etc. The Wikimedia community is not immune to occurrences of sexual harassment.
The English Wikipedia describes it as the behaviour defined as bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. According to the EEOC, sexual harassment is unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. Further borrowing from their definition for the context of volunteering in the Wikimedia projects, sexual harassment may consist of but is not limited to unwelcome and unpleasant sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature that is intended to or has the effect of creating an uninviting, undignifying, humiliating, intimidating or hostile environment.
Advance expression of objection to sexual harassment is not a prerequisite for it to be considered unwelcome; it is unwelcome when one considers it so, even if they may have consented to it or actively participated in it previously.
Sexual harassment can be can be verbal, non-verbal, physical, implicit or explicit.
How may I experience sexual harassment?
There are numerous ways in which sexual harassment can manifest; those can transpire from online to in-person interactions and can be expressed verbally, non-verbally, or physically. Although the following list is not exhaustive, these are some of the behaviours that may be experienced as sexual harassment:
The UN offers some examples of this behaviour, including using terms of endearment like “honey” or “babe” and a host of other inappropriate behaviours, like “making sexual comments about a person's body; making sexual remarks or innuendos…; telling sexual jokes or stories; asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history; asking personal questions about social or sexual life...; making sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy, or looks; repeatedly asking out on a date a person who is not interested...; telling lies or spreading rumours about a person's personal sex life; etc.”
One of their examples, “Turning work discussions to sexual topics,” doesn’t apply only to work, but also specifically in Wikimedia context to volunteer activities like editing or event organisation. This kind of harassment also includes sending unwanted emails, text messages or other contacts of a sexual nature.
Again, the UN offers good examples, including “looking a person up and down (elevator eyes); staring at someone; blocking a person's path; following the person...; displaying sexually suggestive visuals; making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements; making facial expressions such as winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips.” They note that “giving personal gifts” is an example; there are social norms that govern gift-giving, and it can be tricky territory to navigate or understand. Exceeding social norms or pressing others to accept unwanted gifts can be experienced as sexual harassment.
Actual or attempted rape; actual or attempted sexual assault; unwanted and deliberate touching, groping, leaning over, cornering, pinching or swatting. These are obvious examples. The UN includes, “giving an unwanted massage around the neck or shoulders; touching the person's clothing, hair, or body; hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking; touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person; standing close or brushing up against another person.”
What can I do if I experience sexual harassment?
The best course of action when experiencing harassment can vary dramatically, depending on the specifics, intensity and nature of the situation. As the spectrum of sexual harassment is very wide, different approaches may work best depending on the level of sexual harassment one has been subjected to. The following is a non-exhaustive list of options to consider depending on your experience of sexual harassment. Do keep in mind that there is always a possibility that none of the below options work, as some may depend on variables outside of the control of the person experiencing the harassment.
Request for the contact/conduct to cease
In some cases, making an explicit request to the other person to stop conducting themselves in a sexually harassing manner towards you could make that conduct stop. Sometimes it can be something as simple as “stop [describe the behaviour], please”. This communicates your boundaries and informs the other person of your comfort levels in regards to their behaviour. This is something you can consider in cases of unwanted (direct or indirect) communication of sexual nature, or unwelcome physical contact, especially if it has not been clear to the other person that their actions are unwanted or uninvited. If you feel comfortable making that explicit request, it is possible that the behaviour may cease without further escalation.
Look out for an ally
It's important to know that you're not alone in this, and finding an ally you can confide in is often useful. An ally should be a person with whom you feel comfortable sharing the deeply hurtful and personal experiences of having been sexually harassed. If you do not feel comfortable sharing with someone close to you, like family members of close personal friends, you may want to consider reaching out to people trained in handling sexual harassment cases. This page provides some linked examples of such support resources further below.
Contact local law enforcement
If you feel immediately threatened or that your safety has been compromised as a result of the sexual harassment you have experienced, you may want to consider contacting your local authorities, as they are usually in position to act faster than any entity contacted through alternative reporting channels. Of course, outreach to the police should only be done if you feel comfortable doing so. It is possible that the conduct you experienced may be criminal, in which case law enforcement will likely want to hear from you directly about your experience. Even if they are not able to do something at the time you contact them (which may be the case for sexual harassment more than for sexual assault), it helps having your report on their records for future reference. The Foundation can work with them if they have questions or need technical data we may hold in relation to an on-wiki experience, so you can also encourage them to reach us directly if they require further assistance.
If you experience a sexual assault during an in-person Wikimedia event that took place outside of your own country, and are therefore unsure how to reach the local authorities, do seek assistance from the event’s organisers. In this situation, alerting your embassy or consulate may also be an option.
Get medical assistance
Your physical safety is paramount, so do make sure to seek out medical attention if you have been physically harmed in the context of sexual harassment. You may also want to consider mental support as well. There is no shame in admitting that something has been painful to you and reaching out for help on that. The support groups listed below may be able to help you find free or low cost counselling and psychological support specialised in sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.
Consider crisis support
Experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault can be devastating, which is why looking after yourself is a priority. Other than receiving appropriate medical assistance, where needed, you may want to consider reaching out to a crisis helpline where psychological support may be offered. Contact to such helplines is usually confidential and may be a good starting point for your path through the healing process or as you consider your next steps trying to combat the issue. Examples may include but are not limited to:
- The Rape Crisis Network Europe index of support services for survivors of sexual assault and harassment around the world (not just in Europe).
- RAINN national sexual assault hotline. This is a US based network of trained volunteers and supporters available both by phone and by live online chat.
- Online SOS network is an American based organisation that helps you find both immediate and ongoing support.
- The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative offers dedicated information and support surrounding revenge porn, including legislation as well as step-by-step process to follow to have such content removed and a helpline for reporting and getting support when one has been the victim of revenge porn.
Report through off-wiki channels
If the sexual harassment you are experiencing is taking place online but not on a Wikimedia site, you may want to explore the options for reporting the harassing conduct in the respective platform where it has taken place. Think about keeping a record (screenshot and/or archive of the page to Internet Archive, for example) of the harassing content/activity before reporting it, so that it may still be considered if it gets deleted or hidden in the meantime.
Seek Wikimedia Foundation support
When sexual harassment occurs on Wikimedia sites or as a result of your involvement with the Wikimedia projects, the Wikimedia Foundation may be able to offer limited assistance in addition to any other steps you may choose to follow. The Support & Safety team, for example, can investigate cases to see what action should be taken on wiki (should an individual be banned or sanctioned, for example) or help guide you to additional resources and groups. The Legal department, while unable to offer direct legal advice, may be able to assist in finding and/or funding legal support for you in your local area.
For more information about how best to contact the teams and what they're able to do you can see the our main harassment page.