How to Stop Sexually Harassing Women

Three Methods:Ending Sexual Harassment at WorkEnding Sexual Harassment in PublicChanging Your Attitudes to End Sexual Harassment

While anyone can suffer sexual harassment, women disproportionately bear the brunt of it. In 2006, 85% of all sexual harassment claims in the US were made by women. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions has found that the problem “particularly affects women.”[1] Many, however, are unaware that their behavior may constitute sexual harassment.[2] Obtaining a better understanding of this phenomenon and how you can stop it will ensure that you do not sexually harass women in your workplace or public life.

Method 1
Ending Sexual Harassment at Work

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    Review your company’s policy on sexual harassment. In the US, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has made sexual harassment illegal in the workplace.[3] Various state laws may also reinforce or work in conjunction with the national law.
    • You can be guilty of sexual harassment even if you are not in a management or authority position.[4]
    • If you sexually harass someone in the workplace, you may open yourself up to lawsuits against you from either the harassed woman or from your employer for putting them at risk and tarnishing their image.
    • While specific company policies vary, none tolerate sexual harassment, which is grounds for discipline up to and including dismissal.
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    End benign sexual harassment. Pet names or complimentary epithets may seem like harmless fun, but they are a virulent form of sexual harassment.[5] You might even believe that women enjoy and appreciate such benign sexual harassment. They don’t. Refer to women in the workplace only by their names. Some gendered referents to avoid include:
    • Honey
    • Sweetie
    • Baby
    • Darling
    • Sweet cheeks
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    Do not ask your coworkers out. While one time will probably not be considered sexual harassment, repeated attempts most certainly will.[6] If a woman is not interested in dating you, accept her decision and do not pursue a relationship with her.
    • Even if this didn’t constitute a form of sexual harassment, it’s pretty dumb. Work relationships rarely last and when you break up, you will have to confront your ex every day at work. Don’t do it.
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    Do not touch your female coworkers. Hugs, back rubs, even slight nudges or taps to the arm could be considered sexual harassment.[7] Any contact between you and a female coworker could get you in trouble. Keep your hands in your pockets, at your sides, behind your back, or clutching something (a report, a book, a coffee mug) when you interact with women workers to ensure they are not subject to sexual harassment.
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    Create a friendly, welcoming work environment. Talking about the physical attributes of women in your workspace or of women in general are common forms of hostile work environment sexual harassment. Do not make comments either disparaging women’s physical qualities (such as “She’s so fat”) or admiring them (as in, “She has a great body”). Making comments which are offensive to women (especially referring to a woman as a “bitch”) or which reinforce gender stereotypes (“All women want to be mothers” or “Women are no good at math and science”) should also be forbidden.[8] Keep your personal opinions on women to yourself.
    • A hostile work environment might also include descriptions of sexual acts. When you’re on the clock, leave bragging about your sexual exploits for a more appropriate time.
    • Gender equity in the workplace requires not only eschewing negative or objectifying comments about women, such as “Women don’t know anything,” or “Women are only good for one thing,” but creating an environment in which women and men feel they have positive ideas to contribute. Encourage management to include more positive images of women in your company’s promotional materials and introduce more women into the management team and labor force.

Method 2
Ending Sexual Harassment in Public

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    Don’t catcall. A catcall could be whistling at, making kissing sounds at, or lobbing uninvited comments in a woman’s direction while she is walking about, minding her own business. “Hey, beautiful,” or “What are you doing later, sweetheart?” are examples of comments you should keep to yourself.[9] If you see an attractive woman walking around, go about your business and leave her alone.
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    Don’t stare. Don’t leer. Don’t make that gaping-mouthed, wide-eyed caveman face. If a woman is walking towards you, do not assume it is because she wants to talk to you. She has somewhere to be and should be allowed to reach her destination without being subjected to your unwanted gaze. Staring is creepy, irritating, and gross for the woman in question.[10] If you feel your eyes fixating on someone, just close your eyes or look away.
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    Keep your hands to yourself. When you’re in a bar or club, sexual harassment often takes the form of unwanted touching or groping. When alcohol is involved, the likelihood that women will be confronted with unwanted sexual attention increases. Understand that just as you have a right to dance and drink in public without being accosted, so to do women. If they rebuff your advances or are unreceptive to your invitations to drink and dance, do not try to coerce them by grabbing them by the arm, around the waist, or engaging in other forms of unwanted touching.
    • Be respectful of women’s wishes and demands at all times.
    • If you find liquor leads you to sexually harass women, try drinking at home with your friends.
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    Don’t make jokes about women’s bodies or capabilities. The most infamous of this category are so-called “blonde jokes,” whose punchline always drives home that women with blonde hair are stupid.[11] This kind of gendered humor constitutes sexual harassment. Other jokes about women revolve around a variety of other traits traditionally considered feminine, such as cooking, cleaning, or caring for children. If a joke is at the expense of a woman’s integrity or feelings, don’t tell it. There are plenty of funny jokes which don’t turn women into the punchline.
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    Don’t hang out with friends who like to harass women. Misogynists and male chauvinists see no problem with sexual harassment. They think it is their right to touch or talk about women in whatever ways they want. By being with them, you are more likely to internalize and tacitly approve this behavior as acceptable. But when you choose not go out with them, you can take the opportunity to explain that you’re doing so in order to work towards a new life built on respect for, empathy with, and understanding of women. Hopefully your example will make them consider their behavior too.
    • Be firm when expressing your disdain for harassment. Look your friends in the eye so they know you are not joking.
    • Examples of things you can say to chastise your male chauvinist friends include:
      • How would you like it if people treated you like an object?
      • She's not a dog, don't whistle at her.[12]
      • What makes you think this kind of behavior is acceptable?

Method 3
Changing Your Attitudes to End Sexual Harassment

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    Question your motives. What are you gaining in your sexually harassing behaviors? Better understanding why you feel sexual harassment is necessary will help you find a solution for your behavior and refocus your energy in a more productive way. Examine your reasons for sexually harassing women.
    • Do you want to look good in front of your buddies? Perhaps you need new friends, or give your old friends a heads-up about why sexual harassment is wrong.
    • Does it make you feel strong, powerful, in control? Your insecurity is no excuse for sexual harassment. Talk to a therapist if you struggle with the need to feel “manly” or “tough.”
    • Do you feel entitled to touch or talk about a woman's body without her permission? This is a symptom of male privilege, the ability of men to do and say things that women cannot because society judges people of different genders with different yardsticks. Consider how you would feel if someone touched and tried to coerce you into something you did not want to do.
    • Whatever your reason, ask why you think it’s acceptable and find a way to undermine the assumptions upon which you’ve justified sexual harassment.
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    Understand the consequences of sexual harassment. There are consequences for you and consequences for her. There can be emotional, physical, or legal repercussions for sexual harassment depending on the severity and specific circumstances of the situation. Some of these consequences include:
    • You may later feel embarrassed when you realize how rude you’ve been.[13]
    • In addition to negative feelings, you may open yourself up to legal action, especially in the case of ongoing sexual harassment of one individual.
    • Women who experience sexual harassment feel angry, trapped, and frustrated.[14]
    • Victims of sexual harassment will feel less safe and often have to adjust their travel routes and schedules in order to avoid certain times of the day (especially late at night) or certain places (near bars, colleges, and restaurants) where sexual harassment is a frequent occurrence.
    • Cultural acceptance of sexual harassment leads to rape, domestic violence, and other forms of female disempowerment which women around the world have to confront daily.
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    Empathize. Imagine you are one of the one in four women who experience sexual harassment in the street before the age of 12 (or one of the one in two women harassed on the street by age 17).[15] How would you feel? Victims of sexual harassment often describe the experience as one in which they feel powerless, afraid, angry, and alone.
    • Stop believing the lie that women enjoy harassment. Just because she smiles doesn't mean she likes it; in fact, a smile is most likely a fear response in the hopes that the situation won’t escalate into threats, violence, stalking, rape, or murder. Sexual harassment threatens a woman's sense of safety, and it is never okay.
    • Use the following guiding questions to think carefully about life as a woman under the constant threat of sexual harassment:
      • Would you like to worry about what you are wearing before going out because you might be "asking for it?"
      • What would it feel like to live according to a "rape schedule" – leaving bars and other venues early to ensure you are not alone in the parking lot after dark?
      • Do you think your sister, mother, or female friends would appreciate catcalls, staring, or unwanted groping? Would you?
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    Discipline yourself. Changing habits is hard. Motivate yourself to stop the harassment. Wear a rubber band around your wrist and lightly snap it against your wrist when you feel the urge to harass. Have a stress ball in your pocket to distract yourself when you're feeling the urge to touch someone inappropriately. Conversely, when you go for a week without making a sexual comment or joke which might make women feel awkward or uncomfortable, give yourself a pat on the back and a little reward.
    • As time goes on and you become more sensitive to the reality of sexual harassment, elongate the period of time you wait to reward yourself for speaking and acting free of sexual harassment.
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    Make amends. Give a detailed verbal apology to any woman you realize you were harassing. Explain that you now realize the error of your ways, and have learned that women deserve respect.[16] A display of penitence will make the women you harassed feel somewhat better, and after a big apology, you will think twice about making lewd comments, gestures, or touches.


  • Take up a form of mental exercise, such as yoga or meditation. These are not only good for your mind but also the body, and will help you control your urges by controlling your thoughts.
  • Above all, when it gets hard get help. Having someone to encourage you will make it much easier to stop harassing anyone.
  • Stop exposing yourself to material that is degrading to women. It may be affecting your attitude towards women in real life.
  • There is nothing wrong with sexual urges, as long as they are handled maturely.


  • Sexual harassment can lead to criminal charges.

Article Info

Categories: Sexual Harassment | Abuse