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What is Sexual Harassment?


What are the main characteristics of sexual harassment? Sexual harassment is an incident in which:

  • the behavior is unwanted or unwelcome, or
  • the behavior is sexual or related to the sex or gender of the individual, or
  • the behavior occurs in the context of a relationship where one person has more formal (i.e., supervisor vs. employee, faculty vs. student, GSI vs. student) or informal (i.e. peer) power than the other.


Sexual harassment is defined by law and includes requests for sexual favors, sexual advances, or other sexual conduct when any of the following is true:

  • submission is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a person's employment or academic advancement, or
  • submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a condition affecting academic or employment decisions, or
  • the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a person's ability to work or perform academically, creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working, learning, or social environment.


The University considers such behavior, whether physical or verbal, to be a breach of its standards of conduct and will seek to prevent such incidents and take corrective action when sexual harassment occurs.

Generally speaking, there are two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment.

What is "quid pro quo" harassment?

Quid pro quo (meaning "this for that") sexual harassment occurs when it is stated or implied that an academic or employment decision about a student or employee depends upon whether the student or employee submits to conduct of a sexual nature. Quid pro quo sexual harassment also occurs when it is stated or implied that an individual must submit to conduct of a sexual nature in order to participate in a University program or activity. So, for example, if an employee is made to believe that a promotion is likely if the employee goes on a date with the employee's supervisor, the employee is possibly being subjected to "quid pro quo" sexual harassment.

What types of behavior might constitute sexual harassment?

The following descriptions, while not all-inclusive, will help you understand the types of behavior that are considered conduct of a sexual nature and that, if unwelcome, may constitute sexual harassment:

  • Unwanted sexual statements
  • Sexual or "dirty" jokes; comments on physical attributes; spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance; talking about one's sexual activity in front of others; displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, and/or written material. Unwanted sexual statements could be made in person, in writing, electronically (email, instant messaging, blogs, web pages, etc.), or otherwise.
  • Unwanted personal attention
  • Letters, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favors, pressure for unnecessary personal interaction, and pressure for dates where a sexual/romantic intent appears evident but remains unwanted
  • Unwanted physical or sexual advances
  • Touching, hugging, kissing, fondling, touching oneself sexually for others to view, sexual assault, intercourse or other sexual activity

What constitutes hostile environment harassment?

Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive working or learning environment or is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects a person's ability to participate in, perform in, or benefit from a University program or activity. While a person engaging in harassing behavior most often has some form of power or authority over the person being harassed, that is not always the case. The harasser can be a peer of the person being harassed. Sometimes the harasser is harassing a person who has the power over them. For example, an employee can sexually harass a supervisor or a student can sexually harass a faculty member. For further information on the process of determining whether a hostile environment exists, please visit the Office of Institutional Equity web page on hostile environments.

Other forms of harassment

It is possible that a "hostile environment" may exist as a result of harassing conduct that is not sexual in nature, but is related to a characteristic of an individual. As with sexual harassment, it is defined as behavior that is so severe, persistent, or pervasive as to affect the ability of an individual to participate in, perform in, or benefit from a University program or activity. An example of such behavior would be the use of derogatory terms, insults, telling derogatory jokes, or taunting and intimidating actions.

It is also important to note that bullying, consisting of repeated unreasonable actions of individuals or groups, can be experienced as harassment. Bullying is typically intended to intimidate, degrade, offend, or humiliate and can create risk to the health and safety of an individual.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of bias. Such treatment takes several forms including, but not limited to, discrimination based on:

  • Sex
  • Gender Identity or Gender Expression
  • Race, Color, National Origin, or Ancestry
  • Disability
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Veteran Status
  • Height and Weight
  • Marital Status

For further details and examples, please visit the Campus Commitment web page. You may also wish to consult the University of Michigan Non-Discrimination Policy.