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Should She Report Sexual Harassment after Sleeping with Him?

Should she report sexual harassment after sleeping with him? A woman raises the question to the Guardian Newspaper’s lifestyle section. The issue involved a married woman and a senior staff member for a political party. She was a volunteer. While he was showing her some of the work on a computer, he reportedly touched her knee about seven times. It is not stated in the article when or if she asked him to stop.

Months after she split with her husband the same man started to show interest again. The article states she was vulnerable, emotional, and drinking too much. They flirted and had a romantic relationship. Later she used him for a job reference. He reportedly gave her a glowing recommendation. One could say that she used him to further her career, something that many women are guilty of. Just because he pursued her, and she accepted him, does that mean there was any harassment involved? I don't believe there is.

Let us define wh what sexual harassment versus flirting and seduction. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the guidelines used by the courts and many companies.

Sexual Harassment is the: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment,

  2. sponsor

    submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or

  3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. § 1604.11[1980])

Flirting and seduction are in a word “games” we play with each other. Everyone plays some flirtation or seduction game at some time in their lives. Teenagers start in school and carry the games on later in life to find partners and spouses. Adults who have split from partners will play the “game."  Humans are social beings and when a split occurs other will step up to comfort. Sometimes these games become romantic relationships and other times just friendships. It depends on the parties involved.


The situation reported in the Guardian might meet part of the standard by initially being unwanted. According to the article it does not fit any other part of the EEOC standards. There is no mention of coercion or threat of loss or interference. The senior staffer did stop touching the woman's knee in the article. And there is no report of any flirtation until she split from her husband.

After she split from her husband, he did renew his interest, which meant at some point he stopped - probably when he learned that she was married. And as stated in the article: they are both adults and began a romantic relationship together. She regrets the decision of getting involved with a co-worker. Sometimes that can be very awkward, but her regret is not a valid basis for an accusation of harassment.  She is asking if she invalidated a harassment claim. As reported there was no sexual harassment by EEOC standards. From what was presented by the woman, there was apparently some attraction between them. Flirting and seduction are not harassment.

It could easily be stated that there was a lack of good judgment with both parties for getting involved with coworkers. If she thought there was harassment when she was being shown the work on the computer, then she should have brought it to the attention of the management of the political party at that time. Political candidates have been very cautious of sexual scandals in their campaigns for many years, and they would have cleared this up immediately. No staffer is worth loosing the election.

To answer her question based on what was written to the Guardian, then that answer is NO. No, do not report him because there is no basis for an accusation based on the information presented. Having slept with him after the fact would undoubtedly be considered in any proceedings; as will the EEOC guidelines that are used by the courts and most companies.

One cannot be part of a consensual relationship, regret it, and then decide it was harassment. That's not how things work.

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