When you hear about sexual harassment, you probably immediately think of men harassing women. That's understandable. Most news stories about sexual harassment involve female victims. Most studies about sexual harassment have been concerned with how it affects women.
But men can be the victims of sexual harassment too. You might recall Michael Crichton's book Disclosure and the movie of the same name. That was a story about a female superior who was accused of sexually harassing her male subordinate. Female-on-male sexual harassment occurs in the real world as well. It violates employment laws against sexual harassment same as male-on-female harassment does.
Since the dawn of the theory of "sexual harassment," women have been more likely to report incidents of harassment. For a long time men simply kept quiet if they were victims of sexual harassment by a woman. But reports of female-on-male sexual harassment are increasing, although they aren't yet at the level for male-on-female harassment.
Data from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicates that the number of men filing sexual harassment claims is approaching 20% of all such claims. That's approximately double the number of male sexual harassment claims filed with the EEOC since the agency began tracking the numbers in 1992. It should be noted though that this data doesn't tell us the sex of the accused in male sexual harassment complaints. It's very likely that a good portion of sexual harassment claims filed by males involve male-on-male, or same-sex, harassment.
So why are male sexual harassment claims increasing? That's of course impossible to pin on any one factor. But various experts have identified a few different possibilities. First, there has been increased media attention given to male sexual harassment claims, beginning with, as I mentioned, the book Disclosure and the more widely known movie based on the book. Second, in 1998 the United States Supreme Court ruled that men can sue for male-on-male sexual harassment. That of course opened the doors for such claims by men, but it likely also demonstrated that there's no reason for men to also avoid pursuing claims for female-on-male sexual harassment. Third, there are more female supervisors in the workplace than ever before, which means that it's no longer just male supervisors who have the opportunity to harass their female subordinates (think Demi Moore in Disclosure). Fourth, data indicates that the recent recession resulted in the elimination of more men from the workforce than woman. In short, not only is there a greater possibility for female-on-male sexual harassment given changing workforce demographics and landscapes, but both the courts and society have become more receptive to the concept of men filing sexual harassment claims.
Men have reported the same types of sexual harassment that women experience. One category of sexual harassment is quid pro quo harassment, which occurs when workplace threats (such as getting fired) or bribes (such as a promotion), are made in an attempt to force unwilling employees into a sexual relationship with the harasser. Another is a hostile work environment, which can include a lot of things, such as unwelcome sexual comments, unwelcome sexual attention, unwelcome sexual touching, sexually offensive behavior, and even threats.
Female-on-male sexual harassment will likely never rise to the level of male-on-female harassment. Studies indicate that men are much more likely to engage in sexual harassment than woman. But that doesn't lessen the impact on the rare male sexual harassment victim though.
Please feel free to contact us if you believe you've been the victim of male-on-male or female-on-male sexual harassment at the workplace.