Written by Avvo Staff

Professor Sexual Harassment

Professor sexual harassment occurs when a professor's conduct toward a student is unwelcome, offensive, and of a sexual nature. This behavior is illegal if it's severe or pervasive enough to interfere with a student's academic life. Title IX of the Education Amendment ( of 1972 is the primary federal law that prohibits sexual harassment in most public and private colleges and universities. States may have additional anti-harassment laws.

Behaviors that constitute professor sexual harassment

A professor's conduct may be considered sexual harassment when it includes recurring or severe behaviors such as the following:

  • Assault or inappropriate touching, kissing, rubbing, or other bodily contact

  • Sexual innuendoes, jokes, rumors, or e-mails

  • Vulgar gestures, comments, or expressions

  • Requests for sexual favors, requests for dates, or unwelcome sexual advances

  • Displaying sexually suggestive posters, drawings, or other objects

  • Threatening, stalking, or blocking movement

The behavior is illegal if a professor promises a better grade or other reward to a student if he or she does something sexual. It is also illegal for a professor to fail a student or takes away privileges if he or she refuses a sexual favor. Illegal sexual harassment also occurs when the professor's behavior creates a hostile environment in which a student can't comfortably participate or benefit from a class or program.

Both male and female students can be victims of sexual harassment.

Professor sexual harassment and the law

Title IX defines sexual harassment as a form of illegal sex discrimination. Any college or university that receives federal funding for even one of their programs must abide by Title IX regulations. This means schools are accountable for sexual harassment that occurs on their campuses or in any school activity.

Under Title IX, schools are required to have an anti-harassment policy and a complaint process for reporting and resolving charges of sexual harassment. Title IX also prohibits any school official from intimidating or threatening a student for reporting sexual harassment.

If you believe you are a victim of professor sexual harassment

Some students may be embarrassed or afraid to report professor sexual harassment. Others may feel there's nothing they can do about it. Sexual harassment is a serious offense. It's critical to take action to prevent the behavior from continuing.

If you think you are being sexually harassed, follow these steps:

  • Tell the harasser to stop if you feel comfortable doing so.

  • Report the harassment to a responsible school official.

  • Follow your school's complaint process.

If necessary, you may also file a charge with the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education ( You must file within 180 days of the incident, or 60 days after your school grievance process is complete. If the agency pursues your charge, it will launch its own investigation.

Additional resources:

U.S. Department of Education: Sexual Harassment-It's not Academic (

American Association of University Women: Drawing the Line - Sexual Harassment on Campus (

Related Legal Guides:

Sexual Harassment Laws (

Penalties for Sexual Harassment (

Sexual Harassment Charges (

Online Sexual Harassment (

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