Sexual harassment: how far is too far?

From unsolicited dick pics to a stranger touching your body. In many cases, sexual behaviour can be unwanted and may come across as sexual harassment. It’s mainly women who have to deal with this far too often, and even after the visibility of the #MeToo movement, it still happens. Sometimes, it may be quite difficult to determine what kind of behaviour is acceptable and when something is crossing a line. That’s why we’ll explain a few things about sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment and sexual transgression

Other names for sexual harassment are sexual intimidation and sexual transgression. We speak of sexual harassment when a person’s boundaries are crossed. It’s a tricky concept, as everyone has different boundaries. It’s not easy to draw a definitive line. What one person finds exciting and funny, may cross the line for someone else and create an uncomfortable or unsafe feeling. This behaviour does not necessarily have to be physical. Sending sexually oriented messages or dick pics is also a form of sexually unwanted behaviour if the recipient has not given consent.

“We all have different boundaries.”

When a man sends an “innocent” picture of his penis, remember that the person who receives it is (probably) not expecting it. He or she may feel extremely uncomfortable or offended by this picture, while it doesn’t mean much to you. What one person finds exciting and funny, may be uncomfortable or even traumatic for someone else. Of course, sending a picture of your body is not as bad as other forms of sexual harassment, but that shouldn’t matter. Any behaviour that crosses the line for someone is unacceptable.

What behaviour is considered transgressive?

According to the Equal Treatment Act, art. 1, sexual harassment is defined as “verbal or physical conduct with sexual intent, intended to affect the dignity of a person, especially when it involves a threatening, insulting, hostile, humiliating, or hurtful situation.” While boundaries are different for everyone, research shows that the following behaviours are often seen as transgressive:

    • Cornering someone
  • Unwanted kissing
  • Sexual insults
  • Asking for sex
  • Unwanted touching

And to a lesser extent, but still important:

  • Approaching someone’s personal space
  • Sexual remarks
  • Shamelessly staring at someone’s body

Even if nothing illegal is happening, a situation can still be experienced as unwanted, intimidating, or traumatic.

Street harassment

Sexually aggressive behaviour also includes street harassment, such as whistling, shouting, chasing, groping, cornering, sexual insults, and aggressively asking for sex. 

street harassment

Does ‘no’ always mean ‘no’?

We can be very clear on this. No is always no. There are a number of reasons why women allow things to happen even if they don’t really want them to. For example, they feel pressured or they’re afraid that the other person will get angry. Alcohol or drug use, blackmail and eliciting pity can also play a role. While women often say ‘no’, they can be too anxious to reject a man more clearly with their behaviour. This can give him the idea that her ‘no’ is not really serious.

“She said ‘no’, but she didn’t really try to get out of it.”

As a woman, you can kiss someone voluntarily or even make the first move, but still not want more than just that. If the man insists, some women may decide to go ahead and have sex even if they don’t really want to. They think they have to, simply because they started kissing.

What do you think?

Below, we outline 2 situations to show what sexual harassment can look like. What do you think? Are these situations going too far, or do you think they’re acceptable?

Situation 1

A 27-year-old woman posts a nice holiday photo on her public Instagram account. She’s at the beach, so she’s wearing a bikini. She has a full D cup, so her breasts are noticeable. An unknown man comments under her photo: “Damn! I wouldn’t mind a taste of those.”

Situation 2

A girl of just 18 years old is walking down the street. It’s dark outside. A boy comes up to her and says: “Hey pretty girl, where are you going?” She’s learned to ignore it, so she walks on. “Is it okay if I walk with you a bit, sweetheart? Shall we go to your house?” She doesn’t look at him but asks him to leave her alone. He grabs her arm and says: “Believe me baby, you’ll love being with me. I’m going to take good care of you.” She panics, pulls herself away from him, and runs away. “Then get the fuck out of here, you filthy whore!” he shouts.


It’s impossible to define exactly where the boundaries lie. Still, it’s clear that it all has to do with respecting other people’s feelings and boundaries. As you can see from the examples above, sexual harassment comes in many forms. From “innocent” remarks and intimidating behaviour to sexual assault and rape. Our tips: remember that no is always no, and never force anything, even if you think the other person ‘probably’ wants it.

How do you deal with sexual transgression?

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