Sexual Harassment


As defined in Penn’s Policy, the term “sexual harassment” refers to any unwanted conduct that is based on an individual’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and that:

1. Involves a stated or implicit threat to the individual’s academic or employment status;

2. Has the purpose or effect of interfering with the individual’s academic or work performance; and/or

3. Creates an intimidating or offensive academic, living or work environment

It is the impact of the behavior, not the intent, which is used to determine whether behavior constitutes sexual harassment.

The policy also notes: “Not every act that might be offensive to an individual or a group necessarily will be considered harassment and/or a violation of the University’s standards of conduct. In determining whether an act constitutes harassment, the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct must be carefully reviewed. Due consideration must be given to the protection of individual rights, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and open expression.”

Types of Sexual Harassment

  • Sexual Coercion
    • Favorable treatment conditioned on sexual activity
    • For example, a professor suggesting that a student might receive a higher grade in a class or a better letter of recommendation if they sleep together.
  • Unwanted Sexual Attention
    • Unwanted verbal or physical sexual advances
    • For example, repeatedly asking out another student in the lab who has said that they’re not interested.
  • Gender Harassment
    • Sexist hostility and crude behavior
    • For example, a group of students publicly rating the attractiveness of women on Locust Walk.

Recommendations from National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

From Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine  Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Jun 12.

  • Address the most common form of sexual harassment: gender harassment.
  • Move beyond legal compliance to address culture and climate.
  • Create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments.
  • Improve transparency and accountability.
  • Diffuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty.
  • Provide support for the target of harassment.
  • Strive for strong and diverse leadership.


Visit the resources page to find information about who to contact for support and reporting options.

Additional Information