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Sexual harassment: the 'reasonable persons' test

In determining if sexual harassment has occurred the question asked is "would a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, have anticipated that the person harassed would feel offended, humiliated or intimidated?"

Reasonableness is also determined by weighing all the relevant circumstances which can include the context in which the harassment occurred, the nature of the relationship between the parties and the relative status of those involved in the complaint.

For example, in determining whether a sexually explicit joke constituted sexual harassment a number of factors would be taken into account. The same joke between friends and considered funny may be considered offensive if shared in the workplace or in the classroom.

The power relationship between the parties is given serious consideration when determining the likelihood of sexual harassment. Age, gender, and position are all potential power issues. Sexual harassment can have serious implications for work and study in situations where the alleged harasser is in a position of authority over the person subjected to the behaviour. Therefore, sexual conduct by an older male manager towards a younger female or a person in a junior position would be considered quite differently from the same behaviour between two peers.

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