Sexual harassment cannot be defined strictly in terms of specific behaviours. The circumstances including the nature of the relationship between the parties all play a role in determining whether a particular behaviour is perceived as offensive or vexatious, in other words, whether it is unwelcome.
The context also helps to decide whether the person responsible for the behaviour knew or ought reasonably to have known that the behaviour was unwelcome.
View some examples of how context and circumstances play a role in the perception of sexual harassment.
In human rights, a reasonable person’s perception is used to determine whether sexual harassment occurred rather than the individual’s subjective perception of the problematic conduct or of the signs of unwelcome ness.
People’s reactions may differ considerably from how a reasonable person might react in the same circumstances.
At the University of Ottawa, the Deans, the Administration Committee and the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors are the persons or bodies given the responsibility in the complaint procedures to determine whether sexual harassment occurred; they are in effect reasonable persons.
Perception and individual differences
Perceptions vary according to individuals and individuals are unique. Even under similar circumstances, two individuals might interpret the same behaviour totally differently. People’s tolerance levels to behaviours differ because of their personal history, their varied cultural heritage and events experienced throughout their lifetime. Although perceptions of behaviour are subjective in nature and may vary widely, they may very well be reasonable perceptions.