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.
These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.