Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is not the survivor's fault. The only person responsible is the person who initiates the act(s).

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual communication or attention that is offensive, intimidating or humiliating, whether in verbal, written or visual form. It may include psychological violence, verbal abuse, manipulation and coercion.

While sexual harassment may be understood as a form of sexual assault, it is dealt with separately from acts of sexual assault under the policies and procedures in place at McGill University. For more information, visit the Reporting an Incident page.

The University defines sexual harassment in section 2.10 of the Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law as:

Any conduct of a sexual nature by one member of the University community towards another Member of the University community, where sexual activity: 

  • Is made an explicit or implicit term or condition of an individual’s employment or status in a course, program, or activity
  • Is used as a basis for an employment or educational decision affecting an individual
  • Is any Conduct of a Sexual Nature by one Member of the University Community towards another Member of the University Community, the effect of which is to impair that person’s work or educational performance where it is known or ought to be known that the conduct is unwelcome.

Recognizing Acts of Sexual Harassment

Acts of sexual harassment are a direct violation of the Human Rights Commission of Canada. Yet, all too often, they go unrecognised or unchallenged in our society. This is due to the repeated normalization of both these harmful acts and the excuses that accompany them. Examples of such excuses are: “Oh they’re just being friendly,” “It’s harmless,” “Stop being such a prude,” etc. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time, although one-time incidents can also be considered harassment. These acts may occur within a power relationship (e.g., between a student and their teaching assistant, professor or supervisor).

Each individual experiences a situation in their own, unique way. It is important when receiving a disclosure of sexual harassment to let the person define their own experience and voice how they interpreted the situation. 

The following descriptions, while not exhaustive, may help one recognize acts of sexual harassment:

Unwanted sexual statements and advances: Sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumors about or rating others as to their sexual activity or performance, talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others and displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures and/or written material. Unwanted sexual statements can be made in person, in writing, electronically (email, instant messaging, blogs, web pages, etc.) and otherwise. Unsolicited sexual touching of oneself for others to view is also considered an act of sexual harrasment.

Unwanted personal attention: Letters, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favours, pressure for unnecessary personal interaction and pressure for dates where sexual/romantic intent appears evident but remains unwanted.

-Adapated from

What To Do If I'm Still Not Sure The Behaviour is Sexual Harassment?

Consult any of the following resources to receive support and information:

  • McGill's Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education
  • Harassment Assessor
  • Sexual Assault Center Of McGill Students' Society (A-Branch program)
  • Your union representative (if applicable)
  • The Ombudsperson
  • McGill Security

What To Do If You Are Being Sexually Harassed?

The following are courses of action that one can take. People affected by these acts should take the steps that they feel most comfortable taking. If you fear for your safety, contact 911 or McGill Security.

  • If possible, clearly address the person who is engaging in sexual harassment. Identify the unwanted, offensive, intimidating or humiliating behavior and ask them to stop. You can do so verbally (preferably in the presence of a witness) or in writing. Keep a copy of your message.
  • Document all actions and communication: including dates, times, places, name of witnesses, acts committed, comments, feelings and reactions, and who you spoke with.
  • Keep all evidence: emails, texts, messages, emails, etc.
  • Talk to someone you trust about it. You are not alone. This may include speaking with a trusted friend, co-worker, or support resource.
  • If you feel that it is impossible or ineffective to address the person directly, or if you are afraid of the reaction it may cause, you can contact a Harassment Assessor for support.

Reporting Sexual Harassment at McGill

Acts of sexual harassment are covered by McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law. Allegations of breaches of the code are handled by Harassment Assessors.

To learn more about how to report at McGill, visit the Reporting Sexual Harassment page.

What To Do If You Witness Sexual Harassment?

Witnessing harassment of any kind can be upsetting. Know that there are support and reporting resources available to you and the person being harassed.

If you witness harassment you may want to consider the following courses of actions:

  • If possible, interrupt the behavior by being an active bystander. Only go forward if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.
  • Speak to the person who was being harassed in a confidential space. Provide them with inform on the policy and the reporting process. Offer to be an advisor/support person if they choose to file a complaint.  
  • Let them know what you witnessed and offer your support.
  • If the person is willing to discuss, provide a space where the person can speak freely and at their own pace without interruption.  Be respectful of the person’s privacy and confidentiality.
  • If you feel comfortable, and if it will not jeopardize you or the person being harassed, tell the harasser that you are aware of what happened and to stop.
  • Record any incidents of sexual harassment that you witness.

*If a formal complaint is made, you may be called upon to describe what you saw.

*If you are a faculty member or a supervisor, you are obligated to seek advice and help if you witness conduct that may violate the University's regulations and policies.

Contribute to creating safer, inclusive environments free from Sexual Harassment:

  • At work or in school, be sure that your jokes or comments do not place someone in an embarrassing or uncomfortable situation.
  • Respect personal space and boundaries.
  • If the verbal or non-verbal reactions to your conduct appears to be negative or unwelcomed, your conduct is most likely not appreciated. Stop engaging in it immediately.
  • Check-in for consent. Without an affirmative and clear YES, you do not have permission to continue. Stop engaging in the behaviour and confirm the person’s consent.
  • In order to cultivate respectful relations, learn more about active listening skills.