Sexual Harassment vs. Self-Compassion


What is Sexual Harassment?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

The point of emphasis here is the word “unwelcome.” Essentially, the degree of offensiveness that the sexual act carries depends exclusively on how the victim feels. Of course, this objectiveness means that the definition of “harassment” is often unclear. Although every situation is different, and circumstances vary from case to case, there are many actions that could be considered sexual harassment. The following list includes examples that are most relevant to the high school demographic, as this is the focus group of my project:

What is considered sexual harassment?

  • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.
  • Unwanted pressure for sexual favors.
  • Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching.
  • Unwanted pressure for dates.
  • Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.
  • Whistling at someone.
  • Cat calls.
  • Sexual innuendos or stories.
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  • Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history.
  • Personal questions about social or sexual life.
  • Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy, or looks.
  • Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person’s personal sex life.
  • Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person.
  • Standing close or brushing up against a person.
  • Looking a person up and down (elevator eyes).

Poll: Sexual Harassment

Below is a link to an anonymous poll about sexual harassment. The instructions are written on the document. This is a public document that anybody can edit, so please be respectful (don’t delete other people’s comments and be mindful of what you write).



How many people will experience sexual harassment in some form?

  • One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
  • 82% of all victims under 18 are female.
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
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Victims of sexual harassment are more likely to encounter the following challenges after their experience:

  • Victims are about 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse.
  • Victims are about 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults.
  • Victims are about 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults.

Of the numerous long-lasting effects of sexual harassment, the majority of them primarily impact the victim’s mental health. During an interview with a fifteen-year-old female who survived sexual harassment, feelings such as guilt and self-blame were discussed extensively. Despite reassurance from her peers and herself that the situation was in no way her fault, she can’t help but feel as though it was preventable. This interviewee, as well as the general group who shares her feelings, could benefit greatly from positive psychological practices.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is facing our suffering with a non-judgemental attitude. Recognizing that everybody struggles and that we are not weak by doing the same is the first step. Practicing self-compassion can be a cathartic activity. One way to show ourselves kindness is by writing a letter to ourselves.

In a 2010 study by Leah Shapira and Myriam Mongrain, participants who wrote a self-compassion letter every day for a week reported a decrease in symptoms of depression as well as greater happiness three months later relative to the start of the experiment. In addition, this increase in happiness persisted six months later.

The findings from this study support the potential positive psychological concepts behind the self-compassion letter. For example, the negativity that judgement carries is addressed when we write a letter. Comparing ourselves to others and focusing on our flaws makes us feel unhappy and stressed. Instead of criticizing ourselves for our shortcomings, this exercise asks us to write a letter expressing compassion for an aspect of ourselves that we might not like.

Those who have experienced sexual harassment may go about the letter from a different angle. The fact that they underwent trauma of this sort isn’t inherently their fault. However, some believe that the situation was preventable, which produces guilt and self-blame. The letter can help these people address those feelings.

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Self-Compassion Letter: Walkthrough

The link below brings you to a video that walks you through the steps to write a self-compassion letter. It was adapted from an activity on Greater Good Magazine, which develops science-based strategies to promote mindfulness.

Link to Youtube Video:

Flipgrid Interactive: What would you write about?

This topic addresses a problem that, while widespread, may not apply to every visitor. However, the self-compassion letter can help with all sorts of negative feelings; self-blame and guilt are just two examples. Even if you haven’t experienced sexual harassment, what would you write a letter for? Do you have any struggles that you wish to overcome? Internalized negativity that you want to release?

Feel free to share here:

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“Child Sexual Abuse Is a Widespread Problem.” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network,

Kraus, Manuel. “How to Use Self-Compassion to Beat Anxiety.” Medium, Pocketcoach, 4 Dec. 2017,

Newman, Kira M. “Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience.” Greater Good Magazine , 9 Nov. 2016,

Preventing Sexual Harassment (BNA Communications, Inc.) SDC IP .73 1992 manual

“Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.” NYC Human Rights,

“Sexual Harassment.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,

Shapira, Leah B., and Myriam Mongrain. “The Benefits of Self-Compassion and Optimism Exercises for Individuals Vulnerable to Depression.” Taylor & Francis, 20 Oct. 2010,

“Trauma-Informed Approaches Learning Communities.” National Council for Behavioral Health,

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