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Types of sexual harassment and where to get help

Sexual harassment is unwelcome and inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature and comes in various forms that may include verbal, nonverbal, physical, cyber or workplace harassment.

A report from Statistics South Africa stated that in the last quarter of 2022, sexual offences increased by 9,6%, highlighting the pervasive rape culture that South Africans grapple with.

The five types of sexual harassment:


Verbal sexual harassment refers to unwanted comments, innuendos or behaviour of a sexual nature that creates hostility, intimidates, or is offensive to the person experiencing it.

It involves using language that is sexually explicit, demeaning, or inappropriate, making explicit or sexually suggestive remarks, jokes, catcalling, street harassment or innuendos about a person’s body or appearance, and using derogatory terms and slurs, which includes using the language of a sexual nature to demean or belittle someone based on their sex or gender.


Nonverbal sexual harassment is unwanted sexual behaviour or advances communicated without words or explicit verbal language. It involves nonverbal cues, gestures, or actions that convey a sexual nature or create a hostile or uncomfortable environment for the recipient.

This includes sexually suggestive gestures such as winking, leering, or using facial expressions that are sexually suggestive, offensive, or invade someone’s personal space without consent, including standing too close or brushing against them in a way that feels intrusive or sexual.


Physical sexual harassment refers to unwelcomed physical contact or advances of a sexual nature that violate a person’s boundaries and rights. It involves using physical force, gestures, or actions to engage in sexual conduct without consent.

This includes unwanted touching, groping, cornering, or blocking someone’s path, exposing one’s genitals, engaging in indecent exposure in front of another person without consent, and or forcible sexual contact or penetration without consent.

Cyber or online

Cyber sexual harassment refers to using digital communication platforms and technology like social media or messaging apps to engage in unwanted and sexually inappropriate behaviour towards individuals.

This includes sending explicit messages, sharing intimate photos without consent, revenge porn, online stalking, harassment, creating fake online profiles, impersonating someone else to deceive or manipulate, and engaging in sexually inappropriate conversations or actions with unsuspecting individuals.


Workplace sexual harassment occurs when individuals experience inappropriate sexual advances, comments, or actions in their professional environment.

This includes quid pro quo harassment: imposing unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or other verbal and physical conduct as a condition for employment benefits, promotions, job security, or other favourable treatment. It also includes creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment through pervasive or severe sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or other sexual conduct that interferes with an individual’s work performance and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere.

Sexual and physical harassment seriously violates a person’s rights and can cause significant physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Victims may experience emotional distress, fear, anxiety, decreased work performance, and negative impacts on their mental health. It is vital that if anyone has experienced any form of harassment, they seek help and support.

Where to get help:

If someone has experienced sexual harassment or witnessed it, they can seek help and report incidents to various organisations that focus on assisting victims and survivors.

These organisations include:

• Sister Unathi through MyPrEP

• Ask Choma

• People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA): 011 642 4345/6

• Gender-Based Violence Command Centre 24-hour helpline: 0800 428 428

• TEARS Foundation 24-hour helpline: 010 590 5920

• Publication Board’s Hotline (report revenge porn): 0800 148 148

• Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust: 021 447 9762

• Stop Gender Violence helpline: 0800 150 150

• Cybercrime Unit of the South African Police Service: 0860 010 111

• The South African Police Service: 10111.

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