In our Sexual Harassment Awareness training seminars your employees will learn and apply the important skills of handling sexual harassment issues and complaints. This hands on seminar thoroughly addresses the elements of how to prevent unacceptable behavior. The seminar includes a detailed overview of what sexual harassment is, explains legal definitions, discusses sexual harassment prevention, and shows how to handle sexual harassment complaints and maintain a positive work environment.

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Sexual Harassment Training:
Sexual Harassment Seminar Tips - Sexual Harassers: Patterns, Personalities, and Types of Harassment

Sexual harassment is not about sex--at the core of the problem is the abuse of  power or authority, though the perpetrator might try to convince the victim and him/herself that the behavior is about sexual or romantic interest.  Some harassers, such as the Mother-father Figure, may even rationalize their behavior as an intent to "help" the victim.  The dynamics of sexual harassment usually involves an aggressor who holds a position of power over the victim.  Still, cases of peer-to-peer harassment are very common.  Subordinates sexually harassing superiors have also been reported.  (Sexual harassment by subordinates is sometimes called "sexual hassle.")

Most sexual harassment is perpetrated by men against women.  However, there are also cases of harassment by women against men, and of same sex harassment perpetrated by either sex. A small percentage of men  account for the majority of harassers, and many of these individuals victimize several women over a period of time.  (Bullying is as serious a problem as sexual harassment, and it can be just as damaging; interestingly, women account for the majority of workplace bullies and the majority of bullying victims are also women.)

In addition to targeting subordinates, perpetrators of sexual harassment may choose their victims based on such characteristics as age, perceived passivity or lack of assertiveness, poor education or naivete, low self esteem, and other areas of vulnerability. However, this does not mean that individuals with these characteristics cause the harassment or deserve to be harassed.

Harassers often test out new victims with minor violations of work, social, and interpersonal boundaries. For example, they might tell sexual jokes or make sexual comments about their target, display sexual/erotic materials, or ask questions about one's sex life; violate one's personal space with touching, and maintain that it is meant to be nonsexual;  make requests or demands that the potential victim meet him/her outside of normal work hours or the designated workplace, or demand they meet alone.

Harassers often dismiss or show a lack of regard for the feelings of their victims, even when assertive attempts are made to put an end to the inappropriate behavior.  When confronted about their inappropriate behavior, perpetrators of sexual harassment often act as if they are being victimized, or it is the victim who is at fault.  This type of manipulation can make the victim feel guilty about trying to set limits or bringing a complaint against the harasser.

Harasser Personality Traits and Attitudes

Behavior and motives vary between individual harassers.  Four dimensions, or  "themes," have been described to help further understand the dynamics that can shape harasser behavior.  While they were originally  written to illuminate the dynamics in sexual harassment by male teachers, the information is easily appropriate to describe harassers in any setting--professional, educational, church/clerical, etc.   (Also, some female harassers can be placed in a few of these dimensions.)  Each dimension is comprised of two profiles, each representing the end of a “pole.”  Please note that these are not entirely mutually exclusive dimensions, and a harasser's placement into any is a matter of judgement.  

Public versus Private Harassers:  Public harassers are blatant about their seductive or sexist attitudes towards colleagues, subordinates, or students.  They like to tell sexist, or sexual jokes, and can be overtly sexual or seductive in their approach. They are "show offs" and their attitudes are a call to attention and meant to make them seem more manly or more powerful.  Private harassers are intensely interested in their images, cultivating personas that seem to be restrained and conservative.   However, when they are alone with their target, their demeanor will change dramatically.  The target will find themselves is a sexual confrontation, and usually a "my word against yours" dilemma should they try to file a grievance.   (The deception, and secretiveness of the activities are part of the excitement for the Private Harasser.)

The Untouchable versus The Risk-Taker:  The Untouchable does not consider the consequences of his or her actions, believing themselves to be in control, free of any real risks,  and beyond the ranks of censorship or reprimands.  They may even flaunt sexual liaisons with coworkers, subordinates, or students, viewing this as a challenge to the system.  For the most part, they are narcissistic and grandiose, viewing themselves as “untouchable,” much like the egocentric adolescent who does not believe the will ever “get caught” or who continually drives drunk.  The Risk-Taker knows they are being “naughty” and their actions are a statement, and at the same time, the risk-taker fears punishment for the transgressions.  They will vacillate between the “high” of breaking-the-rules and guilt at the immorality of their actions.  The sexual harassment target will symbolize the transgression, and symbolize the harasser’s weakness.  Because of this the harasser will blame the victim, labeling them a “tempter” or “temptress” who has taken advantage.   Indeed, the Risk-Taker will view themselves as being the victims, and not the other way around.

The Seducer-Demander versus the Passive-Initiator:  The Seducer-Demander is a “power player” who actively plots sexual encounters using his or her position to do so.  A Demander has little more than contempt for their targets, and they broker favors for sex as their way of keeping people in their “proper place.”  A Seducer also uses their position to facilitate sexual encounters but they have a need to be desired and loved, and the power of their position, and the effect it has on their targets, is part of this dynamic.  The Passive-Initiator is the person who pays special attention to a subordinate or student, is flirtatious and flattering, but who does not make the first overtly sexual overture. They will argue that, if the subordinate is the one to initiate sexual contact, then the superior is not guilty of any transgressions.    However, it has been argued that an unequal power distribution in this kind of relationship makes the superior's concession to the overtures exploitation, particularly in terms of student-teacher sexual relations.  That the subordinate "asked"  is not an excuse for complying.  The Passive-Initiator "draws the line between morality and immorality at who does the asking.

The Infatuated versus The Sexual Conqueror:  The Sexual Conqueror is the typical Don Juan (or Juanita) who seduces many people.  They will remember little about each conquest, as they are only interested in numbers.  In many cases, they will not even be able to match a name to a face.  The Infatuated begins by developing a “crush” on a student or subordinate, which may evolve into stronger feelings. The primary attraction to the target is that they are lower in the hierarchy which makes the Infatuated feel stronger and more powerful then they would in a relationship with a peer.  They want to be looked up to, and to be the center of the relationship.  They want to be the teacher who “guides” the lover. In many cases, the Infatuated are very discontented with their own status within their departments or companies, and the relationship with the subordinate is a panacea to this, and helps to bolster the Infatuated's self-esteem.  (Please note: the Infatuated might also be observed in a reverse mode, with a subordinate targeting a superior, with the power disparity being  the same basis for the attraction, and even leading to erotomanic or intimacy seeker stalking--see Types of Stalkers )

Varied Behaviors and Types of Harassment

Besides the four dimensions, we can subdivide harassers and harassment into a number of categories.  Like the dimensions,  these are not entirely mutually exclusive categories.  Most harassment involves more than one type of behavior; therefore, a single harasser may fit several of these profiles, or begin with one method, then move to another.  (Please note: these are not legal definitions and do not describe burdens of proof required by the law.)

The Power-player

In this case harassment is a power game, where the perpetrator insists on sexual favors in exchange for benefits they can dispense because of their position in the hierarchy: getting or keeping a job, favorable grades, recommendations, credentials, projects, raises, promotions, orders, and other types of opportunities.   Called "Quid Pro Quo" harassment, it’s the “you do something for me, and I’ll do something for you” mentality, and is very much like blackmail.  This form of harassment is an extraordinary abuse of power and trust, and can have serious effects on the victim.  

The Mother-father Figure (a.k.a. The Counselor-Helper)

Often found in educational and helping professions, this is probably the most calculated of all sexual harassers.  The Mother-father Figure will try to create a mentor-like relationship with their sexual harassment target, while masking their sexual intentions with pretenses towards personal, professional, or academic attention.  The Mother-father Figure can be particularly drawn to subordinates or students who are troubled, or going through difficult periods in their lives.  This perpetrator will gather information about their target's interests, vulnerabilities, or their knowledge and experience with sex, then tailor their line to the target's specific needs.  The Mother-father Figure may act as a go-between in relationships that their target is having difficulty with--such as relationships with boyfriends or family members.  In doing this, they can increase their stature with their target and earn their trust..   Moreover, they will usually rationalize their predatory intentions by maintaining that it is their duty to "guide"  the target to maturity, even in terms of their sexuality and sexual experience.  


Often motivated by bravado or competition, "one-of-the-gang" harassment occurs when groups of men or women  embarrass others with lewd comments or physical evaluations.   Harassers may act individually in order to "belong" or "impress" the others,  or groups may gang up on a particular target.    Groups may sexually evaluate or derogate the victim--to their face or behind their back--as a way to "bond."  The behavior can range from minor isolated incidents to serial harassing of an individual, and even gang stalking.  Competition may  come into play as members of the group play on each other's egos and bravado. They may compete for the attentions of another, or compete for sexual favors from another. Things may even sink to the level of bets being made on who can succeed in a conquest for a target's sexual favors. (One-of-the-gang is a very common form of harassment amongst children and teenagers.)

Group initiations and rituals:  Group rituals can also involve sexually harassing behaviors and abuses.   Traditionally, this has occurred in the realm of male group rituals and initiations, such as those used in fraternities, sports, and the military.  However sexually harassing behaviors and activities are increasingly being included in girls and women's groups, such as sororities and women's sports.   Moreover, the rationale for such behaviors by women's groups is often that  this will make them more acceptable, and seemingly equal to, male groups.    While some suggest such activities are just “a joke”; or in the name of "group bonding," others consider it degrading, insulting and even threatening— especially for many young people who have experienced sexual harassment, sexual abuse, stalking, or rape.  Young people who lack confidence, or who are confused about their identity, may fall victim to such practices more easily than those who are self-assured.

The Serial Harasser

The most difficult type of harasser to identify, this person is compulsive and often has serious psychological problems. They carefully build up an image so that people would find it hard to believe they would do anyone any harm.  They plan their approach carefully, and strike in private so that it is their word against that of a subordinate or student. They can do a lot of damage before being found out. Their behavior is often a "call for help" rather than a deliberate plan to harass someone or do them harm.  In this case, counseling is probably the best protocol for treating the problem.  

The Opportunist  

The Opportunist uses physical settings and circumstances, or infrequently occurring opportunities, to mask premeditated or intentional sexual behavior towards a target.   This may involve changing the environment in order to minimize inhibitory effects of the workplace or school (e.g private meetings, one- on-one "instruction," field trips, conferences).  An employer or professor taking advantage of subordinates at hotels during out-of-town conferences is a classic example.

The Bully

In this case, sexual harassment is used to punish the victim for some transgression, such as rejection of the harassers interest or advances, or making the harasser feel insecure in their own abilities.   Sexually degrading comments or pranks, sending sexually hostile mail or e-mails, leaving hostile telephone messages, giving negative evaluations or low grades, sabotaging projects, denying opportunities or otherwise undermining the victims ability to do their work or advance at work or school-- all are examples of ways the perpetrator punishes their target, and puts them "in their proper place."   The Bully may convince others to assist them in their "revenge campaign."   (See the One-of-the-Gang)  

The Bully will also target people for sexual harassment because of perceived weakness, or for seeming to be different.  For example, homosexuals are often targeted for sexual harassment because of their orientation and lifestyle choices, as are men who do not embody traditional masculine stereotypes.   (Both are often targets of One-of-the-Gang sexual harassment, also.)

The Confidante

This type of harasser approaches the subordinate, or student, as an equal or a friend. They will share about their own life experiences and difficulties, and invite the subordinate to share theirs. The perpetrator may invent stories to win admiration or sympathy. Their target may feel valued and trusted, and will become an involuntary confidante.  â€œWithout genuine mutual agreement, the relationship is moved into an intimate domain,” from which the subordinate may find it difficult to extricate themselves.

The Situational Harasser

The type of harassment usually occurs when the perpetrator endures a traumatic event, or begins to experience very stressful life situations, such as psychological or medical problems, marital problems, or divorce.   If the situation changes, or the pressures are removed, the harassment often stops - but by then both victim and harasser have been harmed.

The Pest

This is the stereotypical "won't take 'no' for an answer" harasser who persists in hounding a target for attention and dates even after persistent rejections. In most cases, this harasser has no malicious intent and is simply operating on the principles that they will eventually be able to wear their target down, and eventually get a "yes."  (see also, the Incompetent below)

The Great Gallant

This mostly verbal harassment involves excessive compliments and personal comments that are out of place or embarrassing to the recipient. While most men and women appreciate recognition and genuine compliments, these comments focus on the appearance and the sex of a worker or student, rather than their abilities or accomplishments.  Such comments are sometimes accompanied by leering looks or an attitude of "possessive pride."  Although the complimenter may see himself/herself as gallant or gracious, the recipient usually experiences this as patronizing or annoying, or both.   The catcalls of a street harasser is another type of "Great Gallant" harassment.

The Intellectual Seducer (a.k.a. the “mind fucker")

Most often found in a university or classroom setting, this perpetrator will try to use their knowledge and skills as an avenue to gaining access to a student, or information about a student, for sexual purposes.   A number of disciplines, such as psychology, women’s studies, sociology, and philosophy, encourage students to disclose information about themselves.  The teacher may require students participate in exercises or "studies" that reveal information about their sexual preferences, experiences, and habits.

The Incompetent

These are socially inept individuals who desire intimacy and the attentions of their target, who does not reciprocate these feelings.  The Incompetent often lacks sufficient courting skills, and  cannot  engage in "subdued, preliminary interpersonal relations."  At the same time,  they may also display a sense of entitlement: believing their target should feel flattered by their attentions.  When rejected, this type of harasser may engage in stalking, or use bullying methods as a form of revenge.  (See "The Bully" above, and The Incompetent Suitor, in Types of Stalkers)

The Groper

The Groper is usually serial in his/her attentions to colleagues, subordinates, or students. Whenever the opportunity presents itself - in the elevator, when working late, at the office or department party - the Groper's eyes and hands begin to wander. Every birthday, farewell or special occasion is also an opportunity to insist on (usually begrudged) kisses or hugs.  The Groper may try to mask inappropriate touching while ostensibly providing instruction (e.g. "guiding" the target through a movement exercise).    A particularly aggressive Groper may go so far as to act in public; but if not stopped, he/she is likely to try to go further in private. If confronted, they will deny the behavior, or insist that the recipient likes and enjoys these attentions.  They may even insist that single and divorced people "need it."  

The Comedian

The Comedian harasses others because they think it is funny to do so. In their 2006 study, the AAUW found that this was the most common rationale for harassment by boys--59 percent.  However, since this behavior is so often meant to impress others, it may fall more appropriately under the category of "One of the Gang."  Less than one-fifth (17%) of those boys who admitted to harassing others say they did so because they wanted a date with the person. Other researchers assert that the "I thought it was funny" rationale is a fallacy, and the true reasons align more with that of a need to assert power and induce fear in others--more in line with the Bully.  These hazing behaviors develop in school, continue in high school and college, eventually moving into the workplace.

The Statement-maker (The Sexual Activist)

There is also sexual harassment that is disguised as empowerment, or to force a political agenda.   Increasingly, women are embracing a traditional male model of sexual aggression as a way of showing their liberation and sexual power; however, this aggression can lead to sexual harassing behavior of both men and other women.  Women are also beginning to sexually harass others as a way of making themselves feel more equal to males, or to be viewed by males as equals.  Someone who has embraced an "alternative sexuality" may harass others in a mis-guided attempt to obtain acceptance or encourage others to embrace the same values.  Activist Harassers often rationalize such behaviors as attempts at sexual empowerment, or to encourage people to accept diverse lifestyle choices.  However, these rationales are completely self-serving, as are most rationales for harassment.  Gay or feminist political agendas do not turn sexual harassment into something else.  (At the same time, your average Activist Harasser would not hesitate to label all the same behaviors as oppressive or discriminatory, if done by white male heterosexuals.)

Source: SHS link

Related: Sexual Harassment Seminar