Survey on harassment – Definitions

These definitions are given in the context of the EPFL survey on harassment, violence and discriminations. It is recommended to read carefully the following before answering to the questionnaire.

Discrimination is defined as follows:

  • Saying or doing something belittling or unfair to someone on account of their origin, sex, gender identity, sexual or romantic orientation, appearance, age, language, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, or religious, philosophical or political beliefs, because they are disabled, pregnant or breastfeeding, or on similar grounds.
  • A person is said to be discriminated against when they are treated differently from someone else for one of the reasons given above, and when this unequal treatment causes them to feel humiliated or excluded.

Under Article 3 of Switzerland’s Gender Equality Act (GEA), it is illegal to discriminate against employees in matters relating to “hiring, allocation of duties, setting of working conditions, pay, basic and continuing education and training, promotion and dismissal.”

Violence and psychological harassment in the workplace or place of study are defined as follows:

  • Violence is any act, whether physical or verbal, that violates the integrity of an employee or student and that threatens their health, safety or well-being. The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) divides aggressive and violent acts into three categories:
    • Rudeness towards and lack of respect for others
    • Physical or verbal violence, threatening behavior and intent to injure
    • Attacks and hostile acts, and intent to inflict harm
  • Aside from violent acts by individuals, institutions can also set the stage for structural violence because of the way they’re organized or managed.
  • Psychological harassment is defined as a series of acts and/or comments, repeated frequently over a relatively long period of time, by which an individual or group seeks to isolate, marginalize or even exclude a person in the workplace (Source: case law of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court).
  • Psychological harassment can be top-down (where a manager bullies a worker or a teacher bullies a student), sideways (within peer groups of coworkers or students) or bottom-up (typically where a group of workers bullies a manager).
  • Psychological harassment can take one of five forms:
    • Acts that are intended to infringe upon a person’s ability to communicate
    • Social interaction that is intended to harm a person
    • Attacks on a person’s reputation
    • Acts that are intended to harm a person’s quality of life and professional performance or career
    • Acts that are intended to harm a person’s health.

(Source – in French: Brochure « Mobbing et autres formes de harcèlement » du SECO)

In schools and other educational settings, students are typically subordinate to teachers, who assess their work and award grades. This hierarchical structure creates relationships of authority and dependency, which can serve as breeding grounds for psychological harassment. Pressure to perform and be productive is also intense. Likewise, being young and relatively inexperienced can erode a person’s self-confidence and undermine their ability to say “no” in an uncomfortable situation.

Sexual violence refers to any kind of sexual or sex-related act or activity to which everyone involved has not given their free and explicit consent.

Consent means that a person has agreed to an act. Someone can consent to something but withdraw that consent at any time. People generally withhold their consent by saying “no”.

But it’s important to remember that not saying “no” does not mean that someone consents. Likewise, someone who submits to an act because they’re coerced, threatened or dependent on the other person has not given their consent. When engaging in sexual activity, each partner must ensure that the other(s) consent(s).

Exemples of sexual violence:

  • Forcing someone to view pornographic material
  • Forcing someone to use sex toys, wear particular outfits or act out fantasies
  • Forcing someone to pose for photos or videos
  • Forcing someone to commit sexual acts against their will
  • Humiliating someone during sex (e.g., insulting them, forcing them to adopt degrading positions)
  • Physically attacking someone during sex (e.g., biting someone’s breasts, tugging their nipples, penetrating them violently, hitting or binding them)
  • Coercing someone to commit sexual acts (e.g., by forcing or threatening them, by sulking or by offering them gifts)
  • Raping or attempting to rape someone
  • Forcing someone to commit sexual acts with other partners
  • Forcing someone into prostitution

(Source: Website « Violence que »)

In the Swiss Criminal Code and Swiss case law, a distinction is made between sexual assault (i.e., any unwanted physical contact on the buttocks, genitals, breasts and mouth or between the thighs) and rape, which is defined as any unwanted sexual act involving penetration with a penis of the vagina. The EPFL Survey on Discrimination, Violence and Harassment uses a broader definition of rape that includes any unwanted sexual act involving penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus with a hand, penis or object.

Sexual harassment is one type of sexual violence. It is defined as a form of discrimination in Switzerland’s Gender Equality Act (GEA). Definitions of sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational settings are given below:

  • Article 4 of the GEA defines discrimination through sexual harassment as “any harassing behavior of a sexual nature or other behavior related to the person’s sex that adversely affects the dignity of women or men in the workplace.” A single act can amount to sexual harassment, which is characterized not by the intention of the acting person, but rather by the way the targeted person perceives, receives or feels about this behavior.
  • In educational settings, sexual harassment refers to acts or behavior involving people who are “linked by a learning or training relationship, or where the harassment takes place within an educational setting , (…) during a revision session (…), at an evening event for students, or online (such as via email, social media or instant messenger). Sexual harassment can also involve people who work together, are friends or are in a romantic relationship.”

(Source: Brochure « Non au harcèlement sexuel dans les lieux de formation » in French)

There are three types of sexual violence and/or sexual harassment:

  • Verbal: comments, rumors, propositions, advances and insults; suggestive or embarrassing remarks about a person’s appearance; sexist remarks; sexual innuendo and jokes about someone’s romantic or sexual orientation; sexually explicit conversations or stories; inappropriate invitations; sexual advances accompanied by threats or promised rewards, etc.
  • Nonverbal: inappropriate staring, whistling, winking, face-pulling and obscene gestures; showing, posting or sending sexist or pornographic material, etc.
  • Physical: unwanted physical contact, sexual assault, rape and attempted rape.