In 21st-century New York, online sexual harassment is increasingly common. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 19% of adult internet users have personally witnessed sexual harassment online, with 6% reporting being victims themselves.

Many believe that the relative and historic anonymity of internet communications emboldens people to behave in ways that they may not in real-life situations.

Online sexual harassment

Online sexual harassment can take the form of either unwanted comments to or unwanted comments about a person that are of a sexual nature. It can be through words, images, videos or other content. With the proliferation of social media, the vast majority of reports cite these platforms, but comment threads on other sites are another commonly reported environment. Online sexual harassment can also occur via email or in workplace communications. Surprisingly, only a small percentage of reports implicate dating sites.

Legal actions

The legal actions a victim can take are often complicated by the nature and scope of the internet. Further complicating matters is the fact that many online interactions are relatively anonymous, but there are often ways to uncover an identity when necessary.

Prosecuting online sexual harassment depends on the perpetrator’s relationship to the victim, the location of both parties, the nature of the harassment and whether or not the harasser’s identity is identifiable.

As FindLaw explains, if the person is a colleague, the case may fall under workplace harassment. Many schools also have internal recourse for incidents between students. Whether the perpetrator is in the same city, state or nation will in part determine which the authorities can respond.

Responding to harassment

Regardless of these factors, there are certain prudent actions to take in response. Ask the person to stop the behavior, but then do not respond beyond that as even negative responses can encourage someone to continue. Report the abuse as quickly as possible — whether to the site or social media platform or to any relevant authorities. If necessary, contact a lawyer. Block the person if possible but not before taking screenshots and collecting all available evidence. Remember that many sites allow users to delete posts, so document the harassment as quickly as possible.

Taking these actions increase the available legal recourse and increase the likelihood that the harassment will stop.