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Online MisconductSexual Harassment

Can You Be Held Accountable For Online Sexual Harassment?

By December 7, 2020September 25th, 2023No Comments

Gone are the times where sexual harassment was limited to face to face confrontations. 

With the advent of technology and various social media platforms, sexual harassment can be between people that are miles apart. Online sexual harassment can happen on social media sites, emails, forums, and messenger systems.

Despite the distance between the perpetrator and the target, the effects of online sexual harassment are very real. It can inflict emotional distress and trauma on the victim. The victim may feel threatened, coerced, upset, exploited, sexualized, humiliated, or discriminated against. 

So how is someone held accountable for online sexual harassment?

What Is Online Sexual Harassment?

Online sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual conduct on any digital platform. Some of the common types of online sexual harassment include:

  • Making inappropriate remarks 
  • Sending pornographic content
  • Disparaging comments about a person’s gender
  • Online stalking
  • Sexual innuendos and jokes
  • Online sexual advances

Because there are so many types of online sexual harassment, they can generally be organized into four main categories:

#1. Non-consensual sharing of intimate pictures and videos

There is a range of behaviors included in this category. It comprises sexual pictures or videos taken without consent, sexual pictures or videos taken with permission but shared non-consensually. It also includes non-consensual sexual acts recorded digitally.

#2. Exploitation, threats, and coercion

This is where a person receives sexual threats, is forced to participate in sexual behavior online, or blackmailed with sexual content. It involves using the threat of distributing sexual content to blackmail, threaten, or coerce someone, harassing a person online to share sexual images of themselves, etc.

#3. Sexual bullying

This is where a person is targeted by and systematically excluded from a community or group of people using sexual content that upsets, humiliates, or discriminates against them. Examples include:

  • Lies, gossip, or rumors about sexual behavior posted online
  • Discriminatory or offensive sexual language online
  • Body shaming, etc…

#4. Unwanted sexual content and sexualization

This happens when a person receives unwanted sexual requests, comments, and content. For example, jokes of a sexual nature, altering a person’s image to make them sexual, rating peers on attractiveness or sexual activity, and activities generally sexualizing a person’s online persona are characterized this way.

What Can You Do If You’re Sexually Harassed Online?

There are a number of things you can do if you’re sexually harassed online: 

  • You can install a filtering system on your electronic device that automatically screens and culls emails from specific individuals or items related to particular topics or subjects.
  • In real-time messaging forums, you can block messages being sent from any user that’s been harassing you or whom you find offensive.
  • You can also report harassment behavior to the host of the website. This may result in the host banning the harasser from the site.
  • You can install a anti-spam program. Spam is another word for irrelevant and unsolicited online advertisements. Some programs can read and identify materials as spam and stop them from reaching you.
  • Use internet access controls. These controls are originally designed to keep children out of inappropriate websites. Nonetheless, these internet access controls can protect you from involuntarily viewing offensive materials.

What Is The Punishment For Online Sexual Harassment?

Online sexual harassment can make an environment uncomfortable and even hostile for a person. It can impair the learning process and impact an individual’s mental and even physical wellbeing. As such, several states have criminalized online sexual harassment.

This means that a person can be convicted of online sexual harassment. The offense may be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case. Whatever the case, the penalty for online sexual harassment ranges from fines to jail time. The punishment may also include court-ordered psychological counseling and restraining orders.

Additionally, a student convicted (or even accused) of online sexual harassment could face sanctions from their school or university. 

What If I’m Wrongly Accused?

In the current climate of the #MeToo movement,  online sexual harassment is being taken very seriously. The effects can be damaging and long-lasting. As such, any person that sexually harasses another online will be held accountable and face grave consequences. If you have been wrongly accused of online sexual harassment, you need an experienced student defense attorney to help you try to prove your innocence. Contact DC Student Defense today to get started on your case.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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