College Policy Says Sexual Harassment Can Occur Through Attitude and Tone of Voice

There is an outcry at St. Petersburg College that even the tone of your voice can be considered sexual harassment. The state college in St. Petersburg, Florida who promotes a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy, recently published an online pamphlet describing what they consider to be the three types of sexual harassment;  quid pro quo, hostile environment, and hostile sexual misconduct. 

  1. Quid Pro Quo (also known as ‘this for that’) refers to situations when offers (either explicit or implicit) of “education, employment participation or benefits” are linked to sexual favors.  This is one of the two definitions of sexual harassment under California and Federal law covering employees.
  2. Hostile Environment refers to “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”. The advances must either create a hostile working environment or negatively impact a person’s job or education. Things that contribute to a hostile environment include not only sexual jokes and pornography, but “emails or computer screens.”  This is also one of the two definitions of sexual harassment under California and Federal law covering employees.  
  3. Hostile Sexual Misconduct refers to “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” from a student, employee or third party.  “[Sexual harassment] also can occur through innuendo, attitude or voice inflection. It often is not what is said, but how it’s said.” 

Many people including Samantha Harris, the director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, believes that the College’s sexual harassment policy is too restrictive. She feels that with the implementation of the new policy, students and teachers will begin to self-censor and avoid discussing any uncomfortable topics at all—like sex or gender related issues. Instead, she believes that the school’s president should develop a policy with only one definition of sexual harassment and that the definition “be consistent with the requirements of the First Amendment, by which it is bound as a public institution.”

What do you think of St. Petersburg College’s definition of sexual harassment to include someone’s tone of voice? Do you think it is too restrictive? Doesn’t “tone of voice”, “computer screen”, and “email” just define ways in which sexual things are communicated? Showing of pornography–whether by email or computer screen–to someone who does not consent is already recognized under the law as a way to create a sexually hostile work environment.  

*image by Flickr

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