Can You Be Sexually Harassed Online?

Sexual harassment is a very real and pervasive problem in the U.S. It refers to making inappropriate and unsolicited remarks, gestures or physical advances of a sexual nature, often in a workplace setting. Discrimination based on sex or gender is also sexual harassment. Intentional and unintentional sexual harassment can make an environment feel hostile and unwelcoming. It could also lead to issues such as job termination and lost wages. Today, modern technology makes it possible for someone to suffer sexual harassment anywhere through the internet – even within their own homes.

About Online Sexual Harassment

Online sexual harassment is just as much a crime as in-person sexual harassment. It can still inflict very real suffering and emotional distress on the target. Online sexual harassment simply does not involve any face-to-face interactions between the perpetrator and the target. Harassing behaviors can appear online on social media sites, forums, emails and messenger systems. Both forms of sexual harassment can be significantly harmful to the victim.

• Sending materials to the victim. Sending unsolicited materials of a sexually-explicit nature to a victim constitutes online sexual harassment. Materials could be messages, website links, photos or videos.

• Posting materials about the victim. A crime called revenge porn has become one of the most common forms of online sexual harassment, in which someone – usually an angry ex-spouse – posts sexually explicit materials containing the victim or victim’s likeness online.

Online sexual harassment can range from sending someone pornographic content to making disparaging remarks in chatrooms about someone’s gender. Online stalking, name-calling, humiliation, jokes, remarks, sexual innuendos, sexual advances or explicit materials could all meet the definition of sexual harassment. If you find something sexually offensive online that impacted your life, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

Does Online Sexual Harassment Happen at Work?

Online sexual harassment can happen in any setting, including the workplace. If a coworker or boss is unprofessional to the point of harassing you through email, messenger or online collaboration tools, you may have a case against your employer for sexual harassment. Online harassment in the workplace can vary from jokes at one sex’s expense in a group chat to emailing pornographic photos to a coworker. Vulgar messages, sharing a private conversation publicly, or showing gender or sexual biases through email could all constitute sexual harassment at work.

If you experience online sexual harassment at work, print out the message, email or materials you believe have crossed the line. Take them to the Human Resources (HR) department at work to file a complaint. Explain that you wish the company to do something about the harassment you are suffering. Your employer should have a protocol in place for dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination at work. If your employer fails to remedy the situation or you face retaliation for coming forward, take your case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). File an official charge with the EEOC to request an investigation.

If the EEOC finds proof of online sexual harassment at your workplace, it may host a mediation between you and your employer. Your employer may offer to work things out with a settlement to resolve the case. If not, you will have another option – filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer. Your employer will be vicariously liable for the actions of its employees while on duty, including committing online sexual harassment. Your employer could also be individually liable for failing to do anything about sexual harassment once you complained about it to HR.

When to Call an Attorney

A sexual harassment attorney can help you go up against your employer, a coworker or another party in pursuit of justice and compensation after experiencing harassment of any kind at work. Your attorney can protect your rights and best interests during the official complaint process, mediation with an employer and a sexual harassment trial, if necessary. A lawyer can help you work through any online sexual harassment case, whether you were at work or not when you encountered the materials. Hire a lawyer to advocate for you as an online sexual harassment survivor.