Myths & Facts

MYTH: Sexual harassment is rare.
FACT: Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches the lives of 40 to 60 percent of working women, and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities. Approximately 10-20 percent of men report being sexually harassed at work or in academic environments.

MYTH: The seriousness of sexual harassment has been exaggerated; most so-called harassment is really trivial and harmless flirtation.
FACT: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Most harassment has nothing to do with flirtation or sincere sexual or social interest. In contrast, sexual harassment can be offensive, derisive, threatening and frightening. Research shows that people who have been harassed often suffer negative consequences, such as having to change majors, leave programs, or drop out of school or jobs to avoid further harassment. Reported psychological and physiological reactions are typical of those experienced with other forms of stress (e.g., feelings of depression, anger, confusion, and powerlessness; headaches, sleep disturbances, and unusual eating patterns).

MYTH: People who are sexually harassed generally provoke harassment by the way they look, dress and behave.
FACT: Harassment does not occur because a person dresses provocatively. Studies have found that victims of sexual harassment vary greatly in physical appearance, type of clothing, age, and behavior. Victims of sexual harassment should not be blamed for the harasser’s unwelcome behavior. It is possible that someone being harassed is coincidentally dressed in a manner inappropriate for the work or academic setting; this issue can be addressed through communication about dress codes and/or other relevant feedback. Such attire is never an excuse for harassment to occur.

MYTH: Many people make up and report stories of sexual harassment to get back at their employers or others who have angered them.
FACT: Research shows that less than one percent of complaints are false. People rarely file intentionally false complaints. In fact, the majority of people who are harassed do not file complaints at all; they often do not speak up and remain silent. However, the UF policy is clear that any person who knowingly files a false complaint of sexual harassment is subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal from the University.

MYTH: If you ignore harassment, it will go away.
FACT: Harassment will not go away by itself. Research has shown that simply ignoring the behavior is ineffective. Ignoring such behavior may even be seen as agreement or encouragement, with silence giving the appearance of consent.

MYTH: If the person did not intend a behavior to be offensive, then it cannot be considered sexual harassment.
FACT: It is the impact on another person, not the individual’s intent that determines whether or not a behavior is considered sexual harassment. If the behavior has a negative impact on the academic or workplace environment, an individual’s motivation or ignorance does not invalidate any harassment that has occurred. If you are uncertain about the impact of your behavior, refrain! Think before you speak. Ask yourself, what if your comments were said to your boss, or to your parent, or were quoted in local media? If they could be seen as inappropriate, refrain!

MYTH: Since my cultural background values frequent touching and hugging, it is OK for me to be true to my heritage by hugging my peers as long as I reach out to everyone.
FACT: At UF, people come from diverse backgrounds, whether throughout Florida, across the US, or around the world. Studies show that people vary widely in approaching human interactions (e.g., differing comfort levels in interpersonal space, formality of speech, touching and hugging). It is everyone’s responsibility to act in ways that are respectful of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Do not assume that your ease with certain behaviors means that it will be similarly comfortable for every person you encounter. It is best not to engage in physical interactions (e.g., touching and hugging) in the academic or workplace environment unless you can be certain that it is welcome and relevant.

MYTH: Sexual harassment policies have banished humor and compliments in workplace.
FACT: Humor and compliments still have a place at work or in academic settings; indeed they are often welcome elements. The key is to consider the type of compliment or joke you share to be sure that it is not offensive to others. Compliments should not repeatedly single out one person; they can go beyond comments on physical appearance to highlight valued workplace behaviors, such as creativity, collaboration, thoughtfulness, and competency. Comments or jokes that are disrespectful of some group or that depend on sexual content for laughs should be avoided. Nevertheless, research findings support the benefits of the “levity effect” - the value of lightening up in the workplace, where humor can be a component of the healthy work environment.

MYTH: Sexual harassment policies interfere with free speech and academic freedom.
FACT: Free speech is critical in a University context and principles of academic freedom are recognized within this context. Sexual harassment policy does not prohibit conduct that is legitimately related to course content or related commentary. However, the tenets of free speech do not protect speech or other behaviors that violate federal or state laws, such as protection against sexual harassment.