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Harassment covers a wide range of offensive behaviour. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset. In the legal sense, it is behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances, typically in the workplace, where the consequences of refusing are potentially very disadvantageous to the victim.


The word is based in English since circa 1618 as loan word from the French harassement, which was in turn already attested in 1572 meaning torment, annoyance, bother, trouble [1] and later as of 1609 was also referred to the condition of being exhausted, overtired[2][3]. Of the French verb harasser itself we have first records in a Latin to French translation of 1527 of ThucydidesHistory of the war that was between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians both in the countries of the Greeks and the Romans and the neighbouring places where the translator writes harasser allegedly meaning harceler (to exhaust the enemy by repeated raids); and in the military chant Chanson du franc archer[4] of 1562, where the term is referred to a gaunt jument (de poil fauveau, tant maigre et harassée: of fawn horsehair, so meagre and …) where it is supposed that the verb is used meaning overtired.[5]

A hypothesis about the origin of the verb harasser is harace/harache, which was used in the 14th century in expressions like courre à la harache (to pursue) and prendre aucun par la harache (to take somebody under constraint).[6] The Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, a German etymological dictionary of the French language (1922–2002) compares phonetically and syntactically both harace and harache to the interjection hare and haro by alleging a pejorative and augmentative form. The latter was an exclamation indicating distress and emergency (recorded since 1180) but is also reported later in 1529 in the expression crier haro sur (to arise indignation over somebody). hare 's use is already reported in 1204 as an order to finish public activities as fairs or markets and later (1377) still as command but referred to dogs. This dictionary suggests a relation of haro/hare with the old lower franconian *hara (here) (as by bringing a dog to heel).[7]

While the pejorative of an exclamation and in particular of such an exclamation is theoretically possible for the first word (harace) and maybe phonetically plausible for harache, a semantic, syntactic and phonetic similarity of the verb harasser as used in the first popular attestation (the chant mentioned above) with the word haras should be kept in mind: Already in 1160 haras indicated a group of horses constrained together for the purpose of reproduction and in 1280 it also indicated the enclosure facility itself, where those horses are constrained[8]. The origin itself of harass is thought to be the old Scandinavian hârr with the Romanic suffix –as, which meant grey or dimmish horsehair. Controversial is the etymological relation to the Arabic word for horse whose roman transliteration is faras.

Although the French origin of the word harassment is beyond all question, in the Oxford English Dictionary and those dictionaries basing on it a supposed Old French verb harer should be the origin of the French verb harasser, despite the fact that this verb cannot be found in French etymologic dictionaries like that of the fr:Centre national de ressources textuelles et lexicales or the fr:Trésor de la langue française informatisé (see also their corresponding websites as indicated in the interlinks); since the entry further alleges a derivation from hare, like in the mentioned German etymological dictionary of the French language a possible misprint of harer = har/ass/er = harasser is plausible or cannot be excluded. In those dictionaries the relationship with harassment were an interpretation of the interjection hare as to urge/set a dog on, despite the fact that it should indicate a shout to come and not to go (hare = hara = here; cf. above)[9]. The American Heritage Dictionary prudently indicates this origin only as possible.


United States

In 1964, the United States Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination at work on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and sex. This later became the legal basis for early harassment law. The practice of developing workplace guidelines prohibiting harassment was pioneered in 1969, when the U.S. Department of Defense drafted a Human Goals Charter, establishing a policy of equal respect for both sexes. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, Template:Ussc: the U.S. Supreme Court recognized harassment suits against employers for promoting a sexually hostile work environment. In 2006, U.S.A. President George W. Bush signed a law which prohibited the transmission of annoying messages over the Internet (aka spamming) without disclosing the sender's true identity.[10]

New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination ("LAD")

The LAD prohibits employers from discriminating in any job-related action, including recruitment, interviewing, hiring, promotions, discharge, compensation and the terms, conditions and privileges of employment on the basis of any of the law's specified protected categories. These protected categories are: race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment), marital status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information liability for military service, or mental or physical disability, including AIDS and HIV related illnesses. The LAD prohibits intentional discrimination based on any of these characteristics. Intentional discrimination may take the form of differential treatment or statements and conduct that reflect discriminatory animus or bias.


In 1984, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibited sexual harassment in workplaces under federal jurisdiction.

United Kingdom

In the UK there are a number of laws protecting people from harassment including the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.


Both because the term is used in common English, and because where the term is defined by law, the law varies by jurisdiction, it is difficult to provide any exact definition that is accepted everywhere.

The ambiguity begins with the fact that some kinds of harassment are, or seem to be, unconscious, small, ephemeral and non-actionable. See microinequity.

In some cultures, for instance, simply stating a political opinion can be seen as unwarranted and a deliberate attempt to intimidate — in a totalitarian society any such statement could be interpreted as an attempt to involve someone in rebel activity or implicate them in same, with the implication that if they refuse, they are putting their own life in danger. More usually, some label such as "anti-social" or related to treason is used to label such behaviour — it being treated as an offense against the state not the person. This resembles the use of psychiatry to imprison dissidents which is common in many countries.

Another example is that under some versions of Islamic Law merely insulting Islam is considered to be a harassment of all believers, and in Japan insulting any faith is usually considered taboo and has legal sanctions[citation needed]. Because of these variations, there is no way even within one society to provide a truly neutral definition of harassment.


However, broad categories of harassment often recognized in law include:

Types of harassment

There are a number of abusive behaviors that fall into this category.

  • Bullying
    Harassment that can occur on the playground, school, in the workforce (may it be sexual harassment or verbal harassment) or any other place. Usually physical and psychological harassing behaviour perpetrated against an individual, by one or more persons. In recent years bullying in the workplace and in schools has come to light as being much more serious and widespread than previously thought.
  • Psychological harassment
    This is humiliating, intimidating or abusive behaviour which is often difficult to detect leaving no evidence other than victim reports or complaints; this characteristically lowers a person’s self-esteem or causes them torment. This can take the form of verbal comments, engineered episodes of intimidation, aggressive actions or repeated gestures. Falling into this category is workplace harassment by individuals or groups mobbing. Community Based Harassment — stalking by a group against an individual using repeated distractions that the individual is sensitized to, such as clicking an ink pen - is another subtype of this.
  • Racial harassment
    The targeting of an individual because of their race or ethnicity. The harassment may include words, deeds, and actions that are specifically designed to make the target feel degraded due to their race or ethnicity.
  • Religious harassment
    Verbal, psychological or physical harassment is used against targets because they choose to practice a specific religion. Religious harassment can also include forced and involuntary conversions.[11]
  • Sexual harassment
    Harassment that can happen anywhere but is most common in the workplace, and schools. It involves unwanted and unwelcome words, deeds, actions, gestures, symbols, or behaviours of a sexual nature that make the target feel uncomfortable. Gender and sexual orientation harassment fall into this family. Involving children, "gay" or "homo" is a common insult falling into this category. The main focus of groups working against sexual harassment is, of course, protection for women, but protection for men is coming to light in recent years.
  • Stalking
    The unauthorized following and surveillance of an individual, to the extent that the person's privacy is unacceptably intruded upon, and the victim fears for their safety.
  • Mobbing
    Violence committed directly or indirectly by a loosely affiliated and organized group of individuals to punish or even execute a person for some alleged offense without a lawful trial. The 'offense' can range from a serious crime like murder to simple expression of undesired ethnic, cultural, or religious attitudes. The issue of the victim's actual guilt or innocence is often irrelevant to the mob, since the mob usually relies on contentions that are unverifiable, unsubstantiated, or completely fabricated.
  • Hazing
    To persecute, harass, or torture in a deliberate, calculated, and planned manner as part of an induction into a group. Because hazing tends to take place as part of a group's initiation rituals, the targeted individual is typically a subordinate or outsider; for example, a fraternity pledge, a new employee, or a first-year military cadet. Hazing is illegal in many instances.
  • Police Harassment
    Unfair treatment conducted by law officials, including but not limited to excessive force, profiling, threats, coercion, and racial, ethnic, religious, gender/sexual, age, or other forms of discrimination.
  • Cyberstalking
    The use of electronic tools such as email or instant messaging to harass or abuse a person or persons. Can also include particularly intense and/or coordinated incidents of trolling, especially when they occur repeatedly and specifically target a single person or group.
  • Electronic harassment
    The invisible (to the unaided eye) use of electronic weapons or directed energy weapons to harass or abuse a person or persons.
  • Sociological harassment
    Sociological (denoting the source and methods) harassment involves elements of many categories of harassment; once a record is kept of seemingly unrelated elements of harassment, from isolated provocation episodes (inviting a response for ensnarement purposes) to passive-aggressive group intimidation etc. these may merge into a greater whole pointing to certain coordinating individuals belonging to a group however loosely sharing consensus in ideas to be promoted and how this is to be done. This also extends to how indivudals and other groups may be moved to submit to this agenda. This takes the form of organized group based psychological harassment with a political or ideological motive in organizational, institutional and academic contexts. It was first observed and described in the United Kingdom(citation/documentation required) 2000 through 2010- ; although similar forms of harassment have always existed this form is characterized by its unusually high level of organization, the ostensible unrelatedness of episodes and incidents, and certain typical phases, patterns and practices. The aim of the controlling group is to obtain maximum control over the targeted or controlled group (inclusive of as many individuals as possible) in an organization or institution. Individuals or even groups who are seen as a threat are eliminated or silenced. Blame or detection for any action is avoided by generalizing the harassment patterns or passing the ball to another individual or group who then takes over the initiative (See entries on Public Sociology and Sociology for background).

    Colloquial speech

    In some contexts of colloquial speech, the word "harassment" and its derivatives can mean in a playful manner "bothering". In computer gaming contexts, "harassment" might constitute provocative or annoying actions in the game. Harassment in strategy games may also mean early attacks aimed to stunt an opponent's growth of either economy or technology. In these contexts, the severity of the terminology is much less intense, and does not carry the same connotations as the legal definitions.

    See also


    1. J. Amyot, Œuvres morales, p. 181
    2. M. Lescarbot, Histoire de la Nouvelle France, I, 479
    3. Etymology of harassement in the French etymologic dictionary CNRTL (in French)
    4. The original text of the chant
    5. Etymology of harasser in the French etymologic dictionary CNRTL (in French)
    6. Centre national de ressources textuelles et lexicales
    7. Etymology of haro
    8. Etymology of haras
    9. Etymology of harassment in OED related harass dictionaries,like the Merriam Webster
    10. Declan McCullagh. Create an e-annoyance, go to jail. CNET news. January 9, 2006
    11. Religious terrorism

    External links

    de:Belästigung fr:Harcèlement hu:Zaklatás ja:嫌がらせ no:Trakassering pl:Molestowanie ru:Домогательство simple:Harass tr:Taciz

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