Sexual Harassment Or Flirtation? 11 Things to Know

With all the sexual harassment horror stories we’ve been hearing lately, it’s easy to want to kick every guy who approaches you in the balls. Personally, If I were a guy, I’d probably feel a bit paranoid about flirting with a woman in the light of all the nastiness and abuse. But flirtation and sexual harassment are two completely different things, so let’s not get them confused. Not all men are creeps—here’s how to tell them apart.

  1. Well-meaning compliments aren’t sexual harassment. Genuine flirtation is always respectful towards the other person. Moreover, there’s nothing wrong with showing someone admiration and let’s be honest, it can be very flattering when a complete stranger on the train calls you “beautiful” and then politely walks away. We don’t want men to stop paying us compliments! Even if you are one of those people that doesn’t like compliments, they still don’t count as harassment.
  2. A guy you actually like can still harass you sexually. Sexual predators aren’t always fat, gross older guys with cigars. An attractive guy can be creepy too if he doesn’t respect your boundaries and tries to coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do. Don’t blame yourself—just because you weren’t repulsed by him doesn’t mean you were “asking for it.”
  3. Sexual harassment makes us feel violated in many ways. You don’t need to be actually physically assaulted or raped to feel violated when someone makes unwanted advances on you. Inappropriate words, staring, and aggressive body language are enough to make us feel like there’s something totally wrong in the way someone is treating us. It just feels wrong and unsafe.
  4. Women know what our boundaries are and so do men. Flirtation is supposed to be light and playful. Sexual harassment is aggressive, violates our boundaries, and feels inappropriate and wrong. Men know very well the difference between being flirty and being abusive. The problem is that sexual predators just don’t care about how uncomfortable they make us feel.
  5. Sexual harassment is another name for abuse and bullying. Men who harass women have a false sense of superiority and entitlement. They don’t care about what the woman wants, they’re only focused on their own needs. Some men sexually bully women, using humiliation and intimidation to feel good about themselves. The bottom line is that sexual harassment isn’t about sex, it’s all about power and control.
  6. It also depends on the context. Your boss or anyone who is in a position of power should never hit on you. Unless you have explicitly shown the person you that the feelings are mutual and (this too can happen, even if it’s usually not a good idea), making a move on an employee is simply an abuse of power.
  7. Sexual harassment gets quickly physical. A guy who’s only flirting may touch you very slightly to test the waters, but NEVER in a sexual or offensive way. A sexual predator will just grope you like an octopus with no regard for your feelings.
  8. Men who sexually harass women aren’t embarrassed to act crass. Not all guys are raised in a way to respect women and see them as equals. Some of them lack the sensitivity chip that other men have. In plain language, they are pigs. Guys who respect women flirt. Guys who don’t harass instead.
  9. Catcalling isn’t flirting, it is unwanted attention. You can wear your sexiest dress, it’s still not an invitation for men to disrespect you. Men will admire you when you look good, get used to that. But nothing justifies calling you names, ogling you or screaming about the parts of your body that appeals to them the most. Let’s make it clear—catcalling and wolf-whistling aren’t flirting—they’re plain demeaning and dehumanizing.
  10. Sometimes there’s a thin line between the two and it all has to do with respect. Sure, a guy who pays you a compliment is just being flirty, but if he goes on to ask for your number 10 times, becomes pushy when you refuse, and won’t take no for an answer, run away. The guy doesn’t understand boundaries and is actually dangerous to date. We know when someone has crossed the line the moment we stop feeling secure around them.
  11. Even if you initially said yes, you always have the right to say no later. You have the right to change your mind when something doesn’t feel right. The fact that you consented in the beginning doesn’t mean you should let someone force himself on you. The moment something doesn’t feel right anymore, raise your voice and say no. Even if you did something to encourage his behavior, nothing justifies sexual harassment and it’s never the victim’s fault.
Chrisa is a freelance travel and lifestyle journalist who is obsessed with urban life, big cities, and untold stories.