What You Should
Know About
Sexual Harassment

Collapse All
Expand All
  1. Sexual harassment can happen anywhere- whether in a public space, in a workplace or even at home.
  2. Sexual harassment need not always be physical. Even non-physical acts like words, gestures, actions, etc. which have a sexual implication can amount to sexual harassment.
  3. Anyone can be a sexual harasser (It is not always an stranger in a public place who is a sexual harasser). Sometimes, it can be people whom you don’t expect to do so- like, a colleague at work or an uncle at home.

Sexual harassment is any sexual act by a man (whether spoken words, gestures, or physical actions) that:

  • Is unwelcome
  • You did not ask for
  • You did not say it okay to do so
  • Makes you uncomfortable

If you checked any of the boxes above, it means the act is an act of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment has been made so ‘normal’ and accepted in our society, that often women don’t realise that a particular behaviour amounts to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is easy to identify when it happens in a public place or by an unknown stranger (for example, on a bus or metro or the street). But, in certain situations, sexual harassment is difficult to identify, like:

  1. If it happens at home/ your workplace
  2. If it is non-physical sexual harassment (like words or gestures) In such situations, women often try to brush it off thinking, ‘He didn’t mean to...

In such situations, women often try to reason out that ‘He didn’t mean to sexually harass me, I am just over-thinking, or I have misunderstood him.’ Stop yourself right there. Just ask yourself- Does it check any of the above boxes? Did it make you feel uncomfortable? If your inner voice says yes, that means it is sexual harassment.

Remember, you don’t feel uncomfortable around every man or in every interaction with a man. But if this particular man (remove comma) or this particular…

Physical Harassment:

  1. Groping you, i.e. touching/squeezing your body parts like breasts, buttocks, thighs, etc. (usually happens in public transport/crowded places).
  2. Touching you anywhere on your body, like touching your face, touching your lips, holding your hand, putting his arm around your waist or your shoulder, which makes you uncomfortable.
  3. Kissing you or hugging you or rubbing his body against you.
  4. Trying to remove any part of your clothing.
  5. Trying to put his hands under your clothing, like putting his hands inside your t-shirt/kurta.
  6. Using physical force to do any of the above.
  1. Whistling at you (usually in the case of eve-teasing on streets).
  2. Singing songs with the intent of teasing/troubling you (usually in the case of eve-teasing on streets)
  3. Calling you names which have a sexual suggestion like ‘item,’ ‘bomb,’ ‘mirchi,’ ‘pataka,’ ‘sexy,’ ‘maal,’ etc. You will identify these kinds of words instantly when you hear them, especially with the tone in which they are said.
  4. Staring at you/staring at your body parts like breasts, buttocks, etc.
  5. Showing you pornographic content or sending you pornographic content over whatsapp, social media, email, messages, etc.
  6. Telling you adult jokes or cracking adult jokes in your presence, knowing that it will make you uncomfortable. Adult jokes can be shared between close friends who have a comfortable rapport with each other. But if a male person is not a close friend, he should not be sharing such content with you unless you have told him that it is okay.
  7. Passing comments about your body or your looks like- ‘you have a beautiful body,’ ‘you have great lips,’ ‘you have a sexy butt,’ ‘I like the shape of your body,’ ‘you look sexy,’ ‘your legs are looking sexy,’ etc. Even sending you messages with such comments (whether through whatsapp, social media, email, etc.) is sexual harassment.
  8. Sending you messages over text message/whatsapp/social media/email, etc. about anything related to your body or looks or anything which has a sexual suggestion.
  9. Making suggestive hand gestures like cupping of breasts/buttocks, biting of lips, kissing gestures, etc.
  10. Making vulgar faces at you.

Apart from the above examples, there are certain common types of sexual harassment at the workplace. For example, if a male colleague/boss:

Example How to Respond
Sends you late-night messages which are not related to work. You do not need to respond to any non-professional messages from a colleague in your personal time. Either reply in the morning or say “Please do not text me at this hour. It is my family time.”
Makes any physical contact with you apart from a hand-shake, which makes you uncomfortable. In a professional set-up, any kind of physical contact other than a handshake is generally not appropriate (for eg- putting his hand over your hand to use the computer mouse). Tell him “I am not comfortable with this/I am not comfortable with what you just did. Please don’t do it next time.”
Comes too close to you while interacting with you, such that it makes you uncomfortable (for eg- you are working on your computer and a male colleague bends very closely over you to show you something on the computer). Move away or take a step back. If he comes too close again, tell him “Do you mind stepping back a little, I am not feeling comfortable.”
Asks you about your sex life or your personal relationships. Tell him “I prefer to keep the conversation professional. I don’t wish to talk about my personal life.”
Stares at you. This is a very delicate situation, as it is very easy for the person to deny that he was staring at you, or to blame you for imagining it. But don’t be afraid to call it out, especially if you are feeling uncomfortable. Tell him “If I am not mistaken, I felt you were staring at me. Is there something you want to say to me?” The person will most likely back-off. If he doesn’t and tells you that you are imagining it, tell him “I don’t think I was imagining it. If you say you were not staring at me, I will give you the benefit of doubt. But if I feel so next time, I will point it out to you.” Now he will know that you are alert about his staring, and he will not stare.
Sends you adult jokes, sexual memes, or pornographic content, in your social media or private messages, it amounts to him hinting at sexual advancement (unless it is a male friend that you’re comfortable with). Tell him “I am not comfortable with these kinds of jokes/do not send me this kind of content.” In some cases, when this happens repeatedly, you must take screenshots and send them to the HR team.
Tells you that if you “follow him” or “let him guide you” or “do as he says” he will show you success. These are ways of hinting that he wants sexual favours from you, in return for helping you in career growth. Ignore these kinds of statements and do not respond or tell him “I am fine with my career and the way it is progressing, thank you.” If he still continues or makes you uncomfortable or scared about your job, immediately complain to the HR or Internal Complaints Committee (see POSH Act Sexual Harassment at Workplace).
Threatens you that if you don’t listen to him, you will lose your job or your position. Do not keep quiet or feel weak in such situations. Immediately file a complaint with your HR or Internal Complaints Committee (see POSH Act Sexual Harassment at Workplace).
Calls you for a meeting beyond office hours or calls you for a meeting in a private room. This could be a trap to try a sexual move on you. Don’t accept such meetings. Tell him “This time/this place does not suit me. Can we re-schedule?” If you can’t say no to the meeting, try one of the following:
  • Take a friend with you for company. Your friend can wait outside the meeting venue and need not interfere with your meeting. But the harasser will know that someone is waiting for you outside and will likely not dare to try anything.
  • If you are in a room, keep the room door open.
  • In front of that person, tell someone over the phone that “I am at xyz meeting with abc. I will be done with the meeting in ___ time, and I will meet you after that.” Again, this will tell the harasser that someone is waiting for you and knows your location and that you are with him, so that he will think twice before trying anything.

Sometimes, sexual harassment falls in a grey area. An action or words spoken by a friend may not be sexual harassment, but the same action or words by a stranger may become sexual harassment. For example- If you have a comfortable rapport with a male friend, and he hugs you or tells you an adult joke, you may find it okay, because you share that comfort level with your friend. But if a colleague, or a man you don’t know very well, hugs you or tells you an adult joke, you may feel uncomfortable because you don’t have that comfort level with this man. The hugs/adult jokes by this man will amount to sexual harassment.

Friendly Comment/ Compliment Inappropriate Sexual Comment
You have a great smile Your lips are sexy / I love your lips
You look fit You have a great / sexy body; You have a great figure
I could drop you home if you are okay with it or I can call you a cab Insisting on dropping you home even if you are not okay with it
How are things at home? How is your sex life/How is your physical life with your husband?
You are really good at your job but you can be better if you are more punctual (this is professional advice) You are good but you can be better if you follow me/do as I say, etc. (Notice if he gives you any professional advice or leaves it hanging like that, which may hint towards sexual favours)
Feel free to ask for help when you need it I will help you get to the top but it must remain between us (again asking for sexual favours in return for a promotion at work)

Sometimes, a compliment or remark may be genuine, without any sexual intent. Trust your instinct and read between the lines. Although you should be alert, you need not be suspicious of every man/every conversation with a male colleague.

If a man gropes you in a crowded place (See Sexual Harassment):

  1. Speak Up- Speak up immediately. Ask the man- ‘What are you doing/Aap kya kar rahe ho?’ Most of the time, men who harass in crowded places like buses, do so because they feel the woman will not react, and they will not get into any trouble. But if you react and speak up, there is a good chance that he will stop.

    Remember- Don’t feel awkward or ashamed about speaking up against sexual harassment. It is not YOU who should feel awkward, it is the HARASSER who should feel ashamed. Therefore, don’t hesitate to speak up. If you keep quiet, the harasser will think his behaviour is okay, and he will continue doing it.
  2. Draw People’s Attention- If the man still does not stop, speak loudly/question him loudly and draw people’s attention. If the harasser knows that other people are watching, he will stop. Most of the time, shaming the harasser in public is good enough to make him stop.
  3. Police Complaint- You can file a police complaint against the man in the nearest police station(see how to file a Police Complaint here- police complaint). If possible, try to click a picture of that man (make this decision based on the situation). Note down details about him- like height, how he looks, what he was wearing, etc. (this will help the police to track him down)

    1. If you are in a bus: Get down at the next bus stop or the bus stop closest to a police station. Make the man also get down with you. If the man refuses, you can still go ahead and file the complaint on your own. Tell the bus conductor about the sexual harassment (this is important because the bus conductor then becomes a witness, and it is easy for the police to track the bus conductor).
    2. If you are in a metro: Most metros have a helpline number to call in case of any problem. You can call this number. If you don’t get a response, get down at the next station and complaint to the in-charge of the metro station. Most metros have CCTV recording, so identifying the perpetrator will not be very difficult.
    If someone eve-teases you: (See Eve-Teasing)
    1. If you are in a crowded place, follow the same steps as given above (“If a man gropes you in a crowded place”).
    2. If you are in a secluded location, all by yourself, and the eve-teasers are in a group, or if the eve-teaser looks dangerous, do not react. Your safety is very important. If you react in a situation where the eve-teaser may overpower you, your safety may be put at risk. Immediately alert a family member/friend (who is preferably in the same city) and send them your live location so they can track you. Get out of the secluded place immediately. Take the nearest available transport and go to a crowded place. You can go to a mall/restaurant/café and stay there till you feel safe.
    3. You can file a police complaint against the man in the nearest police station(see how to file a Police Complaint here police complaint). If possible try to click a picture of that man (make this decision based on the situation). Note down details about him- like height, how he looks, what he was wearing, etc. (this will help the police to track him down).

    If someone stalks you (see Stalking ):

    If you see a familiar face everywhere you go, that man is probably stalking you

    1. Alert a friend or family member that you are being stalked.
    2. Confront him(depending on the situation). In most cases, your stalker is probably assuming that he is unnoticed. You must walk up to him and tell him, “If I see you around me one more time, I am going to the police on grounds of stalking.” You should confront him in a public place(like a mall/restaurant) and never in a private place. The advantage of confronting him in a public place is that:

      1. He will most likely feel ashamed/embarrassed and stop stalking you
      2. Public places like malls have CCTV cameras, which will serve as easy evidence for you. Even if there is no CCTV camera, there will be witnesses to the confrontation.
    3. If the stalker refuses to stop stalking you or if you feel unsafe, file a police complaint (See how to file a Police Complaint here police complaint). For stalking, especially, it is very important that you file a police complaint, because the stalker can get dangerous.
    4. If you feel you are being followed, don’t go to your house, because then the stalker will get to know where you live. Go to a public place and call a family member/friend for help or go to the house of a trusted person. You can even go straight to the police station and file a complaint (See how to file a Police Complaint here police complaint).

    If someone shoots private videos or photos of you/blackmails you to leak them (See Voyeurism and Cyber Bullying):

    1. If someone has private videos or photos of you (even if you have given them to the person yourself), know that sharing such videos/photos is a crime ( Voyeurism and Cyber Bullying). They can go to jail for that.
    2. If this person is blackmailing you, immediately record/screenshot the conversation. If this person is blackmailing you face-to-face, secretly record the conversation on your phone. This is very important evidence that you can use when you file a police complaint. Don’t let the blackmailer know that you are recording the conversation, and don’t give him a hint that you will take action, as this might make him share the private videos/photos in a hurry. You must handle the situation very carefully.
    3. Tell a trusted family member or friend about the situation. Don’t face it alone, as having support will help you take action.
    4. Immediately complain to the police (See how to file a Police Complaint here- police complaint). Don’t waste any time, as in such cases swift action is very important to stop the blackmailer from leaking the videos/photos. In such cases, the police can confiscate the blackmailer’s gadgets like mobile phone, laptop, etc. and also arrest the person without warrant. This will help you stop that person from leaking your private videos/photos.

    In all cases of sexual harassment, to improve your chances of successfully catching the harasser and making sure he is punished, you should ALWAYS do the following:

    1. Maintain the evidence carefully. For example, messages, recorded phone calls, photo of the person, photo of the person's vehicle number-plate, etc.
    2. For example, where this happened, how many times (if it has happened more than once), what time, how this person looks, if there were any witnesses, etc.
    1. If you tolerate sexual harassment, it will send out the wrong message to your harasser; that you are okay with the harassment/you are weak and won’t do anything if he harasses you.
    2. Never doubt yourself or question yourself or blame yourself. If a situation or person makes you uncomfortable, that means it is uncomfortable. You don’t feel uncomfortable 24x7, or with every man. Therefore, if a particular man or situation makes you feel uncomfortable, there is definitely something wrong about him/the situation. ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCT AND YOUR GUT FEELING.

Please note: This information has been made available to you for your benefit on an ‘as is’ basis, and is only for your information. It does not constitute legal advice and cannot substitute professional legal advice. Our disclaimer policy can be viewed here ( disclaimer policy)

Have a legal query which we haven't answered above? Ask us here!