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Online Sexual Harassment: Legal Recourse in the Digital Age

Online sexual harassment is a serious and widespread problem that affects millions of people in the United States and the world. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 41% of Americans have personally experienced some form of online harassment, and 6% experienced online sexual harassment.

 

Online sexual harassment can take many forms, such as:

 

  • Sending unwanted sexual messages, images, or videos
  • Posting or sharing intimate or explicit photos or videos without consent
  • Making sexual comments, jokes, or threats
  • Creating fake profiles or accounts to impersonate or harass someone
  • Spreading rumors or lies about someone’s sexual behavior or orientation
  • Stalking, monitoring, or tracking a person’s online activity or location
  • Hacking, accessing, or interfering with private online accounts or devices

If you or someone you know is a victim of online sexual harassment, you may feel helpless, hopeless, or alone. You may wonder if there’s anything you can do to stop the harassment, protect yourself, or seek justice. The good news is that you have legal rights and options in the digital age.

 

That’s why, in this blog post, our sexual harassment lawyers will answer some of the most common questions that victims of online sexual harassment have and explain how you can get legal help.

What Is the Legal Definition of Online Sexual Harassment?

Online sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates federal and California laws.

 

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

 

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), sexual harassment is defined as harassment based on sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. FEHA prohibits sexual harassment in any workplace or business that employs five or more people, including independent contractors.

 

Online sexual harassment falls under these definitions, as it involves conduct of a sexual nature that occurs through electronic communication, such as email, text, social media, or online platforms. Online sexual harassment can affect an individual’s employment or work environment, as well as their personal or professional relationships, reputation, or well-being.

What Are the Types of Online Sexual Harassment?

There are two main types of online sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

#1 – Quid Pro Quo

This form of online sexual harassment occurs when someone in a position of authority or influence, such as a supervisor, manager, or client, makes a sexual demand or request to an employee or subordinate and makes the employee’s job, salary, promotion, or other benefits contingent on complying with the demand or request.

 

For example, quid pro quo online sexual harassment can occur when a boss sends a sexual message or image to an employee and threatens to fire or demote the employee if they do not respond or reciprocate.

#2 – Hostile Work Environment

Hostile work environment harassment occurs when someone creates or contributes to a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive to a reasonable person because of their sex, gender, or other protected characteristics. For example, a co-worker, customer, or vendor posts or shares sexual comments, jokes, or images about an employee on social media or online forums. The employer knows – or should know – about the harassment but fails to take prompt and effective action to stop it.

How Can I Prove Online Sexual Harassment?

To prove online sexual harassment, you need to show that:

 

  • You were subjected to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature through electronic communication
  • The conduct was based on your sex, gender, or other protected characteristics
  • The behavior affected your employment or work environment negatively
  • The conduct was severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment or a quid pro quo situation
  • The employer knew or should have known about the conduct and failed to take prompt and effective action to stop it

You also need to provide evidence that supports your claim, such as:

 

  • Copies or screenshots of the online messages, images, videos, or posts that contain the harassment
  • Witnesses or testimony from other people who saw or experienced the harassment
  • Records or documentation of the impact of the harassment on your work performance, attendance, or health
  • Complaints or reports that you made to your employer, the harasser, or the authorities about the harassment

Responses or actions that your employer, the harasser, or the authorities took or failed to take regarding the harassment can also be crucial pieces of evidence for your claim.

What Are My Legal Options if I’m a Victim of Online Sexual Harassment?

If you or someone you know is a victim of online sexual harassment, several legal options to pursue are available, such as:

 

  • Filing a complaint with your employer: You can report online sexual harassment to your employer, following the policies and procedures that must be in place. Your employer has a legal duty to investigate your complaint and take appropriate action to stop the harassment and prevent it from happening again. Your employer also has a legal duty to protect you from retaliation for making a complaint.
  • Filing a complaint with a government agency: You can file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) or the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which are the agencies that enforce the state and federal laws against sexual harassment. You can file a complaint online, by mail, or by phone within the time limits set by the law.
  • Filing a lawsuit in court: You can file a lawsuit against your employer, the harasser, or both, seeking compensation for your damages and injunctive relief to stop the harassment. You can file a lawsuit only after you obtain a right-to-sue letter from CRD or EEOC and within the time limits set by the law.

Seeking guidance from a sexual harassment attorney, however, is usually your best option.

Contact HHJ Trial Attorneys for a Free and Confidential Consultation

Online sexual harassment is a serious and unlawful form of sex discrimination that can affect your work and well-being. If you are a victim of online sexual stalking, you have legal rights and options in the digital age. You can take action to stop the victimization, protect yourself, and seek justice.

At HHJ Trial Attorneys, we’re a team of dedicated and compassionate personal injury lawyers who have helped many victims of online sexual harassment in California. We understand the physical, emotional, and financial impact of online sexual harassment, and we’re committed to fighting for your rights and interests.

 

Don’t let online sexual harassment ruin your life. Contact HHJ Trial Attorneys today to help you get the justice and compensation you deserve.

 

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