If you’ve been harassed or discriminated against, which resources to use, which actions to take, and where to turn can be difficult to navigate. You can read Penn’s full policies against sexual harassment in the Pennbook. To help you sort them out, we have clarified a few frequently asked questions here.
Talking to Someone
What are my options for reporting sexual harassment to the University?
To make a formal complaint of sexual harassment for investigation, learn more about your reporting options to figure out your next step.
If you want to make the University aware of sexual harassment without making a formal complaint for investigation, there are ways to do so. Either you or a confidential counselor can report an incident of sexual harassment to one of the following offices or individuals, who will determine appropriate next steps:
- Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs
- Designated School Official or Affirmative Action Officer
- Office of Staff and Labor Relations, Division of Human Resources
- Office of the Vice Provost for University Life
- College Houses and Academic Services (CHAS)
- Office of Student Conduct
- Deans and University Officers
- Department Chairs
- Center Directors
Concerns can also be shared electronically by completing a Bias Incident Reporting Form.
These offices will keep reports confidential to the extent consistent with the University’s need to investigate or otherwise address the allegations and to take remedial action, if appropriate. Once a concern is raised, however, the office or individual receiving the concern is responsible for ensuring that appropriate action is taken by the office best able to handle the particular issue.
After sharing your concerns, you can request to pursue informal or formal resolution, or both.
Who can I speak with confidentially?
Conversations with the offices listed below are considered confidential, to the extent permitted by law. These offices may provide support, information, options, and counseling.
To protect the confidential nature of these discussions, all parties should be aware that discussing a matter with any of these offices is not considered a report to the University or a request that any action be taken by the University in response to any allegation.
Penn Women’s Center (PWC)
Penn Violence Prevention
African American Resource Center
Special Services Unit, Department of Public Safety
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Sexual Trauma Treatment, Outreach and Prevention (CAPS)
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center
Student Health Services (SHS)
Office of the Chaplain
Office of the Ombudsman
In order to trigger University action or a response, you must share the incident with one of the University’s reporting offices. A confidential counselor can also support you throughout any aspect of the reporting process.
In any case involving an allegation of sexual violence (e.g., rape or sexual assault), it is recommended that the Special Services Unit, Department of Public Safety, be involved. The Unit’s role includes explaining options available through the criminal process.
If I tell someone at the University, will there automatically be an investigation into my concerns?
If you are unsure about whether you wish to make a complaint for investigation, speak first to a confidential resource for advice and counseling. You won’t be forced to make a complaint for investigation or prevented from making a complaint. University staff and faculty may share information with others who have a legitimate need to know in order to fairly and effectively address complaints, but the information should be considered confidential and should be protected to the extent possible consistent with legal obligations.
Can I get support even if I don't want to make an official complaint?
Yes. The decision whether or not to make an official report to the University or to law enforcement is a personal one. We respect the rights of individuals to decide what is best for them.
Support resources and some accommodations may be available regardless of whether there is an official investigation. Other accommodations may not be available without an official report and/or investigation; however, the support resources will work with each individual to implement appropriate safety measures.
Who is required to report a complaint of sexual harassment?
All members of the University community have a responsibility to aid in the prevention of sexual harassment and are encouraged to discuss concerns with the Associate Vice President for Equity and Title IX Officer (“AVP”) or another of the University resource offices listed in the policy. The University is committed to monitoring reports and complaints of sexual harassment so that any patterns or systemic problems revealed by such reports and complaints can be addressed.
The AVP will be advised when incidents of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, are reported to any of the University’s resource offices (except those identified as confidential resources), Division of Human Resources (as well as Human Resources staff in the Schools and Centers), Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs (OAA/EOP), and Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics (DRIA).
I'm a Wharton staff member. How can I make an official complaint?
Wharton staff members can find resources in the Sexual Misconduct Policy section of the Pennbook.
Understanding Sexual Harassment
How do I know when something is considered sexual harassment vs. unprofessional or offensive behavior?
While some behaviors may be offensive or unprofessional, they may not necessarily be considered sexual harassment. For example, general use of profanity and vulgar language may not be sexual harassment unless it is sexually oriented and/or used repeatedly to the point that a hostile work or academic environment is created.
In addition, isolated incidents may not be sufficient to create a hostile work or academic environment if the incidents are not severe. Frequent occurrences of minor offensive and unwelcome behavior, however, may be enough. Further, a single and egregious incident may rise to the level of sexual harassment depending upon the severity of the event.
Even if you are unsure whether something constitutes sexual harassment, you can always seek guidance from a confidential resource or make a report.
Can sexual harassment be unintentional?
A part of what makes sexual harassment complex is an individual’s perception of what is, or is not, sexual harassment. For example, lewd remarks, sexual jokes, or physical contact may be interpreted as sexual harassment by one recipient, while another may dismiss them as merely annoying. Some people may perceive a look or a stare to be a sexually harassing leer or ogling, while others may perceive the same behavior as looking or staring and attribute no meaning to it.
Sometimes people accused of sexual harassment don’t realize that they have committed acts of harassment. Accused harassers may have intended to be funny or even complimentary, and may believe that their conduct is appropriate, acceptable, or even appreciated.
To determine whether inappropriate behavior constitutes sexual harassment, the courts generally consider the situation from the perspective of a “reasonable” person, as well as take into account what the subject of the sexual harassment feels about the behavior. It’s the impact of the behavior that matters, not the intent.
How can I help someone else who is experiencing sexual harassment?
As a friend, colleague, family member, or partner, your help during this process is essential. Remember that your primary role is to be supportive. Even if you are a counselor, a lawyer, or a doctor, you should encourage them to seek out support and guidance from a confidential resource at Penn. Read more advice on how to help another person.
What should I do if I witness harassment?
Sexual harassment is a community problem that needs community-based solutions, and everyone at Wharton can help.
Some harassment and discrimination happens in private, but much of it — for example, offensive jokes and comments — happens in front of bystanders. If you witness sexual harassment or gender discrimination, you can refuse to participate. You can take action by defusing the situation, speaking out publicly, offering support privately, reporting the conduct, or encouraging the person who is harassed to reach out to a confidential resource.
Who is a typical sexual harasser?
There is no typical harasser. A harasser can be any gender, any age, and any background. Harassers often have or seek to gain power over an individual or individuals and use that power in a negative way to help themselves feel “in control.”
Harassers may look for “victims” who appear to be vulnerable. This might be because they fear retaliation in the form of loss of employment, economic loss, loss of benefits, loss of status, loss of promotional opportunities, impairment of academic success, or, in some cases, fear of physical or emotional harm. Such harassment can take place not only in supervisor/subordinate relationships, but among peers within work groups, classrooms, or student groups as well.
What is quid pro quo?
Federal law generally has recognized two different grounds for claiming sexual harassment: quid pro quo and a hostile work or academic environment.
Quid pro quo literally translates as “something for something.” This type of harassment occurs when a person in authority, usually a supervisor or instructor, demands sexual favors in exchange for a job, promotion, grade, or other favorable treatment. In quid pro quo cases, the offense is directly linked to the individual’s terms of employment or academic success, or forms the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting the individual.
What constitutes a hostile work or academic environment?
Federal law generally has recognized two different grounds for claiming sexual harassment: quid pro quo and a hostile work or academic environment.
In this case, a hostile work or academic environment doesn’t refer to general hostile behavior. It exists when another person engages in unwelcome and inappropriate sexually based behavior or speech severe or pervasive enough to render the workplace or academic atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive. Usually a pattern of this sort of behavior is required, but one incident can be enough, if sufficiently severe or outrageous.
What is Title IX?
According to the ACLU, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding.
Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault. A college or university that receives federal funds may be held legally responsible when it knows about and ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs or activities. The school can be held responsible in court whether the harassment is committed by a faculty member, staff, student, or visitor.
Sexual harassment can qualify as discrimination under Title IX if it is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit,” as found in Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 633 (1999).
The University’s Associate Vice President for Equity and Title IX Officer (“AVP”) is available to provide information and advice regarding the Title IX for students, faculty, staff and campus visitors. In addition, the Office of the AVP will be available to respond to complaints and concerns relative to Penn’s compliance with its own sex discrimination policy and federal, state, or local regulations.
What is the difference between sexual harassment and sexual violence?
Sexual violence, as defined in Penn’s Policy, is a term that identifies a range of behaviors in which an act of a sexual nature is perpetrated against an individual without consent or when an individual is unable to give consent. There are various types of sexual violence, including sexual assault and rape.
Sexual violence may be committed by physical force, violence, or threats; coercion or intimidation; ignoring the objections of another person; causing another person’s intoxication or impairment with alcohol or drugs; or taking advantage of another person’s intoxication, incapacitation, unconsciousness, state of intimidation, helplessness, or other inability to consent.
Sexual harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with the academic or work effectiveness of the target. It is often imposed upon a person in an unequal power relationship through the abuse of authority and may involve an implied reward or threat of deprivation.
If you’re experiencing either, contact a confidential resource at the University for support and/or to discuss options.
Navigating University Policies
Where can I find a copy of the University's sexual harassment policy?
You can find a copy of the policy in Pennbook.
Can a teacher and student have a consensual sexual relationship?
Consensual sexual relations between a faculty member and student can adversely affect the academic enterprise, distorting judgments or appearing to do so to others, and providing incentives or disincentives for student-faculty contact that are inappropriate.
For these reasons, any sexual relations or dating relationships between a faculty member and an undergraduate student enrolled at the University are prohibited.
Although this policy does not categorically prohibit consensual sexual relations or dating relationships between faculty and graduate or professional students, the University strongly discourages all sexual relations or dating relationships between faculty and graduate or professional students.
Sexual relations or dating relationships between a faculty member and a graduate or professional student during the period of the faculty/student relationship are prohibited. The prohibition extends to sexual relations or dating between a graduate or professional student and other students for whom they have some supervisory academic responsibility, between department chairs and students in that department, and between graduate group chairs and students in that graduate group.
Likewise, sexual relations and dating relationships are prohibited between a graduate or professional student and academic advisors, program directors, and all others who have any supervisory responsibility for that student.
Where can students learn more about sexual harassment and prevention?
Penn Violence Prevention collaborates with students and staff across campus to offer a number of comprehensive educational programs focused on sexual harassment, relationship and sexual violence, and stalking. All Penn students and groups can register to attend. Presentations, trainings, and workshops can also be individualized based on the particular needs of the audience.
What if I am experiencing sexual harassment from someone who is not affiliated with the University?
Penn’s sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies apply to all faculty, staff, students, visitors, and vendors.
If you’re experiencing harassment from someone who isn’t affiliated with the University or if you’re unsure of whether University policy applies in your situation, you can still reach out to the University’s confidential resources. They can offer support and confidential guidance on options regarding how to proceed.
Making a Complaint
How do I make a complaint against a faculty member?
A student, staff member, faculty member, or visitor can make a complaint of sexual harassment against a faculty member, instructor, or teaching assistant to the Associate Vice President for Equity and Title IX Officer (“AVP”).
What happens next?
The AVP will meet with the complainant, determine the appropriate process under University policy for resolution or investigation, and oversee that process.
If the investigation reveals a violation of the sexual harassment policy, then the AVP will then oversee the informal resolution or investigative process(es), advising the Dean of the applicable School that a complaint has been made and discussing any interim measures that may be needed.
For Standing Faculty, the Procedure Governing Sanctions Taken Against Members of the Faculty, Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators, Part II.E.16, will be followed where applicable.
*If you are experiencing sexual violence, relationship violence, and/or stalking, complaints should be made to the AVP, who will direct the process in accordance with the Procedures for Resolving Complaints of Sexual Misconduct Against Faculty. Call 911 or call 215.573.3333 to be connected to Penn Police.
How do I make a complaint against a staff member?
A student, staff member, faculty member, or visitor can make a complaint of sexual harassment against a staff member to the Associate Vice President for Equity and Title IX Officer (“AVP”).
What happens next?
The AVP will meet with the complainant and coordinate with the Office of Staff and Labor Relations in the Division of Human Resources as appropriate.
If it is determined that the complaint involves a violation of the Sexual Harassment Policy, then the AVP will oversee the informal resolution or investigative process(es), advising the Dean or Vice President of the applicable administrative Division that a complaint has been made and discussing any interim measured that may be needed.
*If you are experiencing sexual violence, relationship violence, and/or stalking, complaints should be made to the AVP, who will direct the process in accordance with the Procedures for Resolving Complaints of Sexual Misconduct Against Staff or the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Call 911 or call 215.573.3333 to be connected to Penn Police.
How do I make a complaint against a student?
A student, staff member, faculty member, or visitor can make a complaint of sexual harassment against a student to the Associate Vice President for Equity and Title IX Officer (“AVP”).
What happens next?
The AVP will oversee the investigative and resolution process(es). If it is determined that the complaint involves a violation of the Sexual Harassment Policy, then the AVP will oversee the informal resolution or investigative process(es), advising the Dean of the applicable School that a complaint has been made and discussing any interim measures that may be needed.
*If you are experiencing sexual violence, relationship violence, and/or stalking, complaints should be made to the AVP, who will direct the process in accordance with the Student Disciplinary Procedures for Resolving Complaints of Sexual Misconduct. Call 911 or call 215.573.3333 to be connected to Penn Police.
What if I make a complaint and someone retaliates against me?
University policy expressly prohibits retaliation against faculty, staff or students who in good faith make reports of violations of this policy. In addition, knowingly and intentionally making a false report of a violation of this policy is prohibited.
Members of the Penn community who take adverse action against someone who reports a violation of this policy, intimidate, threaten or otherwise engage in retaliation are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of their employment or expulsion from the University. Read more about Penn’s anti-retaliation policies.
What’s the difference between formal and informal resolution?
Formal resolution involves an investigation into sexual harassment concerns by the appropriate office and a determination of whether there has been a violation of University policy and, if so, what actions will be taken. Formal resolution may be initiated by a student, faculty member, or staff member by making a complaint for investigation to the appropriate office. It may also be initiated by the University if a report is made to a non-confidential resource and it is determined by the appropriate office that an investigation is necessary.
Informal resolution may be available if both parties are in agreement that it should be pursued. The informal resolution does not involve an investigation into sexual harassment concerns and is instead an effort to help the parties reach a mutually agreeable resolution – e.g, through mediation, facilitated discussion, or some other mutually agreeable means. There is no obligation to attempt informal resolution involving matters of sexual harassment. Moreover, a party who agrees to attempt informal resolution may later decide that he or she is not interested in informal resolution. Finally, a formal resolution is available in the event informal resolution is unsuccessful.
What are some possible resolutions?
Formal and informal resolutions vary on a case to case basis. Here are a few potential outcomes when harassment is found to have occurred:
- The harasser may be required to attend training.
- The harasser and/or person who has been harassed may be reassigned to remove reporting relationships or reduce contact.
- A no-contact order may be implemented.
- The harasser may experience formal disciplinary actions or separation from the University in extreme cases.
A confidential resource can talk to you about possible or desired outcomes in your case. Please understand, however, that decisions regarding discipline and/or sanctions will be made by the University.