Harassment - Any sustained or chronic pattern of unwelcome behavior by one individual towards another.

When they won’t take “No” for an answer

Harassment isn’t just a once-off. By definition, it involves a repeating pattern of unnecessary and unwanted behaviors or attention from someone.

Harassment may be intentional or unintentional, however it is not the state of mind of the person doing it which makes their actions harassment, it’s how the person on the receiving end feels about it. In other words, if you feel harassed - you are harassed.

Types of Harassment

  • Verbal - Chronic criticism, humiliation, slander or gossip.
  • Sexual - Unwelcome advances, touching, gestures or comments.
  • Intimidation or indirect violence - breaking or destroying objects, self-harm, cruelty to animals or other people in the sight of the victim.
  • Bullying - hurting or threatening to hurt the victim physically, economically or emotionally.
  • Stalking - unwelcome attention or interaction, refusing to leave a person alone when asked, following, calling, or making unwelcome contact.
  • Hazing - Tormenting a person under the guise of a joke, rite of passage or other “playful” ritual.
  • Harassment by proxy - influencing others to act in an unwelcome way, including filing frivolous legal complaints, police reports, medical procedures, domestic abuse complaints, sexual abuse accusations etc.

Harassment is a form of abuse and can also be a form of bullying. It is particularly dangerous because it tends to become sustained and do damage over the long term, keeping the victim in an ongoing state of anxiety, fear or discomfort.

It can also be difficult to prove in the legal sense, as many chronic cases of harassment are maintained by the perpetrator at a level that is designed to escape the notice of everyone except the victim, and involve behaviors which do not attract the attention of the authorities.

Secrecy and control of the victim are some of the favorite tools in a harasser’s toolbox, and many harassers will back off if the threat of legal trouble, loss of employment or public embarrassment exists.

Left unchallenged, harassing behaviors tend to be repeated, especially when there is no negative consequence for the perpetrator.

How it Feels

People who are victims of harassment often stay that way because they feel powerless do anything about their abuse. Reasons for feeling powerless include:

  • The victim does not know who they can talk to and be taken seriously.
  • The victim fears that their situation is not “serious enough” to warrant the concern of others.
  • The victim is embarrassed to say anything for fear that they will be ridiculed or regarded as “over-reacting”.
  • The victim fears being blamed for the conflict by outsiders.
  • The victim works with, lives with or is related to the perpetrator and believes that challenging their behavior will create an untenable situation.
  • The victim fears retribution from the perpetrator if they speak up.
  • The victim believes they should “turn the other cheek”.
  • The victim believes that they are responsible for or ‘deserved’ the harassment.
  • Many victims of harassment live with a profound sense of defeat and shame; afraid to break the silence, and aware they must choose either to face possible hardships caused by speaking up, or endure the impacts of the ongoing abuse.

What NOT to do

  • Don’t blame yourself for the offensive way another person is behaving.
  • Don’t try to convince yourself “I can handle it”, or “I can take it”. This is abuse, it is wrong, and no-one should have to take it.
  • Don’t keep quiet about it. Inevitably, sooner or later it’s all going to come out. It might as well be on your terms, when you have control, with your dignity intact.
  • Don’t retaliate or argue back - this will rarely get you a satisfactory resolution with an abuser and soliciting a reaction from you may be their original intent.
  • Don’t repeat a complaint about the way you are being treated to a person who ignored you the first time.

What TO do

  • Politely - but firmly - ask the person exhibiting the unwelcome behavior to stop. Do this only once.
  • Talk to a friend and have them accompany you while you say it.
  • Document any unwelcome behaviors accurately and in detail - times, dates, who said/did what.
  • Report what you have documented to anyone in a position of authority, including police, supervisors, teachers, pastors, parents etc. as appropriate.
  • Politely and assertively remove yourself (and any children) from the presence of a harasser as best you can. A person can’t harass you if you are not there.

Depending on your situation that could mean:

  • ending a conversation;
  • leaving a room or a building;
  • exiting a relationship;
  • changing a routine;
  • getting a Restraining Order, Personal Protective Order or Apprehended Violence Order;
  • calling the Police.