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Can sexual harassment be unintentional? The answer isn’t always clear-cut. When sexual harassment occurs, we don’t always know for sure what’s really going on. One may feel confused in a social situation.

For instance, you might be at a bar or restaurant with colleagues and not be able to figure out if someone is making sexual advances or just trying to be friendly. Other forms of sexual assault are easy to identify, like if someone touches your breasts or bottom, or pins you against a wall. Making crude sexual remarks in a work environment is also sexual harassment.

Yet, when sexual harassment occurs it isn’t always direct or conspicuous conduct of a sexual nature. And sometimes, it might just be a miscommunication and not a deliberate offense at all.

Sexual harassment vs. compliment

How can you tell the difference between sexual harassment and a compliment?

Try to get at the intention behind the statement. Usually, the best way is to simply ask.

You can say, for example, ‘What did you mean by that?’ or, ‘I’m not clear on how I should understand that. Could you please explain what you just said?’

So… Can sexual harassment be unintentional?

Yes, I believe that sometimes it can. People perceive things in different ways. Someone might assume that a woman was giving off signals when she didn’t mean to send out an invitation of a sexual nature at all.

Clear communication is the best way to deal with suspected sexual harassment. When sexual harassment occurs, clearly state what the problem is and the reasons why it’s unacceptable.

In the workplace, setting clear personal boundaries is the first step in helping prevent sexual harassment. Having a clear procedure for reporting is the second. Here is a short video I recorded to clearly explain my thoughts on this.

Why sexual harassment training is important

Sexual harassment training can ensure that everyone is on the same page about what constitutes sexual harassment. Importantly, if everyone is properly trained and makes the effort to communicate with each other, we can help to eliminate ambiguity and unintentional sexual harassment altogether.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Leave a comment below and let me know!


At her lowest point, Beate Chelette was $135,000 in debt, a single mother, and forced to leave her home. Only 18 months later, she sold her image licensing business to Bill Gates in a multimillion dollar deal. Chelette is a nationally known ‘gender decoder’ who has appeared in over 60 radio shows, respected speaker, career coach, consummate creative entrepreneur, and author of Happy Woman Happy World. Beate is also the founder of The Women’s Code, a unique guide to women leadership and personal and career success that offers a new code of conduct for today’s business, private, and digital worlds. Determined to build a community of women supporting each other, she took her life-changing formula documented it all in a book Brian Tracy calls “an amazing handbook for every woman who wants health, happiness, love and success!”

Through her corporate initiative “Why Acting Like a Girl Is Good For Business” she helps companies with gender diversification training, and to develop and retain women.

If you’d like to book Beate as a speaker on New Leadership Balance or Creative Entrepreneurship for your next event please connect with me.

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