Honour the incredible women who have shaped your life – share their stories this Mother’s Day! Let’s pass on the #legacyofstrength!

What’s The Difference Between Flirting And Sexual Harassment?

What's the difference between flirting and sexual harassment? How do mark the difference between; over friendly, flirting and harassment?

Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between flirting and sexual harassment? You are not alone! How do mark the difference between; being over-friendly, flirting and harassment?

When a man you hardly know, touches you and gets overfamiliar when you are in your 50s, you are perhaps even more outraged than if you were in your 20s or 30s.

The reason: you’ve come to a comfortable age. A safe age. You are at ease with yourself, and you don’t want anyone violating that sense of comfort.

A recent encounter with an overfamiliar person at a book launch, let’s call him ‘S’, left me both disgusted and angry. S got talking with me and invited my husband and me to a restaurant for idli and coffee.

Till then, it was fine. Then he touched me twice on the shoulder. We were not on such terms that this could be interpreted as an affectionate gesture. I barely knew the man. So why did he touch my shoulder?

What’s the difference between flirting and sexual harassment?

When teaching them about safe and unsafe touch, experts tell children that they are the ‘boss’ of their bodies. What about us grown women? Why do we tolerate being touched by men when we haven’t permitted them to touch us?

There is a clear difference between flirting and sexual harassment.

  • In flirting, there is reciprocation. Both parties enjoy it.
  • In sexual harassment, the attention or actions have not been invited and are unwelcome, and often unexpected, making the victim feel uncomfortable.

Why do people flirt?

Dr David Henningsen of Northern Illinois University has identified six reasons for flirting:

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now
  • To change a friendship into a romantic relationship.
  • To gauge the interest of the other person.
  • For fun – to be playful.
  • To reinforce self-esteem or feel good about oneself.
  • To get someone to do something for you.
  • For sex – because of physical attraction.

Dr Henningsen found that men viewed flirting as more sexually-driven, whereas women reported more fun and relationship motives.

In the case of S, if I were to be charitable, I would attribute the following motives:

  • One, he was trying to be fun and playful (even though our relationship did not warrant such behaviour).
  • Two, he was trying to reinforce his self-esteem or feel good about himself in a large social gathering.

Why should I be charitable?

The questions arise: why should I be charitable?

In an article on BBC, ‘When does flirting become sexual harassment’, Sea Ming Pak, who teaches youngsters about sex and relationships, lists what she thinks constitutes sexual harassment.

  • Non-consensual touching.
  • Feeling entitled to someone else.
  • Talking in a certain way.
  • Chasing girls down the street in order to chat them up.
  • Wolf-whistling.
  • And using a position of power or trust to talk creepily.

In this list, I would say the first three behaviours apply to my recent experience.

Social predicaments

Sexual harassment in the workplace has received a lot of attention.

In fact, there is a law in India against it. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013. It’s commonly known as the POSH Act. But what about sexual harassment in social situations?

Research studies have found that victims perceive sexual harassment as annoying, offensive, upsetting, embarrassing, stressful, and frightening.

My recent encounter with S left me feeling annoyed and upset. In the above situation, I edged as far away from S as I could.

What I should have done was confront him and tell him I did not appreciate his touching me. It’s this inaction that emboldens men to get more familiar, perhaps even to indulge in a worse crime with someone else.

Image source: Triloks, free and edited on CanvaPro

Liked this post?

Register at Women's Web to get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads - you can also start sharing your own ideas and experiences with thousands of other women here!


About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

13 Posts | 10,358 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

Supercharge your startup with Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders in India Program

All Categories