sexual harassment

Just a joke….or sexual harassment?

By Sarah Wednesday, July 3, 2019 - 11:27
Did you know that unwanted sexual comments about your looks, behaviour, or gender count as sexual assault too? Recent Norwegian research looks at the damaging effects of such non-physical sexual harassment on teens.

Pataka lag rahi ho!

Aaj to bilkul pataka lag rahi ho,’ said the guy in your maths class, a few weeks ago. Now whenever he sees you, he makes some totally inappropriate comment about sex. You hate running into him, feel anxious all the time, and have stopped going to the class.

But you don’t share this with anyone and suffer in silence. It’s not physical harassment, you figure, so you’re not sure if he’s done anything wrong.

Sexual harassment is not just physical and what he’s doing is definitely not okay. Calling names and making unwanted sexual remarks or jokes are non-physical forms of harassment. So are things that don’t involve words, like making obscene gestures and spreading sexual rumours or naked pictures on social media.

Forms of non-physical sexual harassment*

  • Unpleasant sexual gazes

  • Comments like ‘cunt,’ ‘prick,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘fag,’ ‘dyke’

  • Dirty talk or remarks about someone’s body or looks

  • Showing sexually explicit pictures or objects

  • Spreading sexual rumours

  • Sending naked pictures on social media

  • Getting sexually explicit pictures on cell phones and other media

  • Being asked for sexual services

Sexual harassment and teens

What kind of an impact do these forms of sexual harassment have on teenagers? Norwegian researchers recently tracked down over 3000 high school students to look at how harassment – both physical and not – affects well-being.

The students filled in questionnaires on their experiences with non-physical sexual harassment and sexual coercion. For example, having their private parts touched or being held in a sexual. Forced intercourse or rape is also a part of it. They also answered questions about anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and body image.

Real damage

Non-physical sexual harassment does very real damage. More damage even than sexual coercion, the research showed. Students who’d experienced things like name calling and unwanted sexual attention, or had rumours spread about them, were more likely to be anxious and depressed. They also had lower self-esteem and a poorer body-image.


Depression was an especially important consequence for women. Non-physical harassment impacted this aspect of their well-being more than it did to men. The effect on self-esteem and body image was also especially strong for women and students who identified as not being heterosexual.

Non-physical harassment was more common than sexual coercion in the study. Though things like calling names or spreading rumours tend to be viewed as less serious than physical actions like being forced to kiss or hold someone, the results showed that these forms of harassment can actually have a greater impact on a teen’s well-being.  

*From Bendixon et al.

Reference: The effects of non-physical peer sexual harassment on high school students’ psychological well-being in Norway: consistent and stable findings across studies. Int J Public Health, Published online October 27, 2017. 

Persons in the picture are models. This article was first published on Feb 2, 2018. 

Have you or a friend such forms of sexual harassment? Share with Love Matters (LM) on our Facebook page. If you have a specific question, please ask LM experts on our discussion forum.

Did you find this useful?

Add new comment


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang>