Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment

A guide for faculty, staff, and students. What can you do? Can it happen to you? What is it? Can it happen here?


Make a report of sexual harassment or other forms of sexual misconduct

The policy of Rice University is to provide an environment that is free from sexual harassment. Such conduct seriously undermines the atmosphere of trust and respect essential to a healthy work and academic environment. This policy applies to all members of the university community, and they are encouraged to report, promptly, complaints about sexual harassment. Persons found to be in violation of this policy shall be subject to disciplinary action that may include but is not limited to, written warning, demotion, transfer, suspension, or dismissal.

No faculty member, administrator, staff member, an applicant for employment, student, or member of the public may be subject to restraint, interference, coercion, or reprisal for action taken in good faith to seek advice concerning a sexual harassment matter, for filing a sexual harassment complaint, or for serving as a witness or as a panel member in the investigation of a sexual harassment complaint.

The Law

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended), by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and by the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.

It is important to remember that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and it is illegal.

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature where

  1. Submission to such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or a condition of an individual's education or employment;
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for academic or employment decisions affecting the individual's welfare; or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's welfare or academic or work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or demeaning educational or work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur between persons of the same or opposite sex. In addition, the victim does not necessarily have to be the person to whom the unwelcome sexual conduct is directed but could be a third party who is affected by behavior that substantially interferes with that third party's welfare or academic or work performance.

Two types of sexual harassment are recognized; quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment.

  • Quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone in a supervisory position conditions the granting of work or academically related benefit upon the receipt of sexual favors or punishes the subordinate for rejecting the offer.
  • Hostile environment harassment occurs when persons create an atmosphere so pervasive with sexual harassment that it has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's psychological well-being or ability to be productive.

Examples of Sexual Harassment

Unwelcome Physical Advance

  • Unwelcome and inappropriate touching, patting or pinching
  • Attempted or actual fondling or kissing
  • Physical assault or coerced sexual activity

Unwelcome Verbal Behavior

  • Unwelcome demands or subtle pressure for sexual favors
  • Sexually suggestive jokes or innuendoes; derogatory, degrading, or sexist remarks about a person's body, clothing, or sexual activities
  • Suggestive or insulting sounds, whistles, catcalls
  • Obscene phone calls

Unwelcome Nonverbal Behavior

  • Inappropriate display in work or study area of sexually suggestive objects, pictures, videotapes, audio recordings, or literature
  • Obscene gestures

Peer harassment is one of the most common forms of sexual harassment.

What to do if you're harassed

Don't Ignore the Problem.

Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. In fact, if you ignore the behavior it may be viewed as approval by the harasser. Avoidance tactics do not work either. If you are unsure that what you are experiencing is sexual harassment, talk to someone you trust or discuss the matter informally with the director of EEOP or any of the university officials listed in this brochure under the caption "Where To Go For Help."

Say No.

Confront the harasser directly, indicating that the conduct is offensive to you and must stop. If you are uncomfortable with speaking up, there are university officials to assist and advise you.

Seek Help and Report the Incident Immediately.

Discuss the situation with someone with whom you feel comfortable. Seek the assistance of departmental officials or college masters, equal opportunity officials, or human resources or student affairs personnel in obtaining advice and guidance in handling the matter.

What to do if you are falsely accused

Care is taken during the investigatory process to protect the rights of all parties. There is little likelihood that you will suffer any adverse action as a consequence of a malicious, false complaint brought against you since the inquiry is confidential and no disciplinary action is taken unless the complaint has been formally investigated and is found to be justified.

A complainant whose allegations are found to be both false and brought with malicious intent will be subject to disciplinary action.


Complaints are handled as discreetly as possible. Privacy and confidentiality are maintained to the extent possible, with information being shared only with those administrators with a compelling need to know for the purpose of investigating or resolving the complaint.

University procedures

All matters of sexual harassment are taken seriously. In order to encourage persons experiencing sexual harassment to come forward, the university provides two avenues for resolving complaints, one informal and the other formal.

Informal Complaint Resolution

Most complaints are resolved at the informal level. Often the complainant only wants the inappropriate behavior to cease, and that is the goal of informal resolution. No attempt is made to determine whether there was intent to harass, the matter is not formally investigated, and no disciplinary action is taken. To the extent possible, information disclosed during this process is held in confidence, unless and until the complaining individual agrees that additional people must be informed in order to find a solution.

Formal Complaint Resolution

The filing of a written complaint is required for a sexual harassment complaint to be formally investigated and disciplinary action taken if appropriate. Formal complaints of sexual harassment against a member of the faculty or staff are filed with the Office of Access Equity and Equal Opportunity; complaints against students are directed to Student Judicial Programs.

Once a formal complaint is filed, the alleged offender is informed of the identity of the complainant and the charges and requested to respond. Either the complainant or the accused may request that a formal complaint be investigated.

Preventing sexual harassment

Each member of the Rice community has a role to play in preventing sexual harassment and a responsibility for ensuring that the work and academic environment is harassment-free.

  • Become informed about the issue of sexual harassment and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
  • Before making a sexual advance or comment, ask yourself whether it is reasonable to believe your behavior is appropriate and welcome.
  • Be knowledgeable about university policy and procedures on sexual harassment so that you know what to do if someone comes to you for advice or if you are the victim of sexual harassment.
  • Trust your instincts about possible danger signals.
  • Don't tolerate or ignore sexually offensive behavior.
  • If you are being sexually harassed, speak up! Communicate your displeasure clearly and directly. If the behavior is unwelcome, the individual needs to know that.
  • Report incidents promptly.
  • If you are involved in a complaint as complainant, alleged offender, or witness, please respect the privacy and confidentiality of all concerned. Breaches of confidentiality have a chilling effect on individuals' willingness to come forward with complaints.

Rice University is committed to maintaining an environment free of sexual harassment.