·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


What Is Sexual Harassment Online?

— February 27, 2023

Many harassers believe they won’t be held accountable, even though nearly everything online has a record and a timestamp.

Sexual harassment is troubling for a victim when it happens in any form. When that harassment is online, it can increase the victim’s emotional distress because it has the potential to include the whole of cyberspace. The victim knows millions of people may see the postings.  

Online sexual harassment can include any type of offensive conduct that is sexual in nature or gender-oriented and is  transmitted electronically, including: 

  • Phone calls
  • Texting
  • Email
  • Messaging services, such as Facebook Messenger, Discord, etc.
  • Gaming platforms
  • Social media sites
  • Collaboration tools such as Slack, Zoom, etc.

Because technology keeps changing, unfortunately, people find new ways to harass their victims. The abuse can take a wide range of forms of online harassment, including: 

  • Unwanted propositions or other sexual advances 
  • Sending someone suggestive or sexually explicit messages or images
  • Demanding explicit pictures or other sexual content under threat of distributing personal information online 
  • Posting sexual comments or rumors about someone
  • Making sexual gestures or facial expressions in a virtual setting 
  • Engaging in cyberstalking, i.e., frequently sending threatening or harassing messages
  • Sharing someone’s intimate images or videos without their consent, known as “revenge porn”
  • Manipulating images to depict the victim and either sending them to the victim or posting them online
  • Making unsuitable or inappropriate comments about a person’s body or appearance
  • Sexual bullying, such as making fun of someone’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or other characteristics
  • Demanding sexual favors or action in exchange for a job, promotion, living environment, or other advantages
  • Engaging in sexual exploitation, i.e., using someone’s private images or videos to harass or blackmail 

These are just some forms of sexual harassment online that a perpetrator can inflict on their victim with the intent to intimidate or harass. 

Can Online Sexual Harassment Happen at Work or School? 

Online sexual harassment can happen at school or work, as well as many other places, such as a church or other social gathering places. A Pew Foundation study found that in a study of 10,000 adults, 41% had experienced some form of online harassment, including sexual. In another study, Pew found that online harassment is becoming more serious. 

Many harassers believe they won’t be held accountable, even though nearly everything online has a record and a timestamp. Bad actors who believe they are safely hidden behind a masked IP address or an anonymous browser can often  be found, unmasked, and held accountable. 

What Can You Do If You’re Sexually Harassed Online? 

If you’ve been sexually harassed online, you do have options. Sexual harassment at work can create a hostile work environment for the victim as well as other employees who become unintentionally involved.

Man in crewneck shirt wearing mask, looking down at smartphone; image by engin akyurt, via
Man in crewneck shirt wearing mask, looking down at smartphone; image by engin akyurt, via

If you are sexually harassed, it is important to document everything related to the harasser’s activity, such as:

  • Note the following
    • Date and time of incident
    • Details of the incident
    • Screenshots or other copies of any communications: emails, direct messages, texts, pictures, social media postings, etc. 
    • Who you believe may be responsible 
    • The user’s online handle, URL, and any context about the incident and why you’re concerned 
  • Report the behavior to your employer, school, church, etc. and document your reporting to them
    • Collect copies of your employee performance and other records of job performance assessments for your records
    • For online harassment in the workplace, carefully observe how the company reacts and if they retaliate
  • Tell a trusted friend, coworker, or family member about the harassment so that they can support you. Keep notes of those conversations so they can also corroborate your story. 
  • Consider filing a police report

If you’re gathering evidence for work-related harassment, keep the information out of your workplace computer and safely backed up elsewhere. 

Be vigilant about protecting yourself, including finding another place to stay if needed. Never share any personal information online and change your passwords to something stronger to prevent someone from hacking into your accounts.  

When to Call an Attorney 

If you aren’t sure what to do next, speak with an attorney before doing anything else. You can discuss the harassment, including its impact on your well-being, and what type of illegal activity, including things commonly known as cyberstalking, revenge porn, or online exploitation may be involved.

An attorney can help you understand your legal options and protect your rights. They can also help you seek justice and hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. 

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