What Is Sexualized Discrimination and Violence

Sexualized discrimination and violence (also referred to as: sexualized harassment) can take many different forms.

Which Actions Are Included?

It can be verbal, non-verbal or physical sexualized acts that have the aim and / or the effect of degrading a person. A key characteristic is that the actions violate the dignity of the person concerned and that this person perceives them as unpleasant or undesirable. Acts that are clearly to be understood as sexualized discrimination or violence include:

  • threats of personal or professional disadvantages or the prospect of advantages related to certain behavior,
  • intimidation, hostility, degradation, humiliation, insults or physical threats,
  • use of degrading language, e.g. comments about people, their bodies, their behavior or their intimate lives,
  • gestures or non-verbal comments with sexualized or racist references,
  • the visual or electronic presentation of degrading representations in the context of work, teaching or study, e.g. smearings in public spaces,
  • downloading or using derogatory computer programs on IT systems in service rooms, buildings or on the university campus,
  • encouraging discriminatory acts,
  • physical touch and assault,
  • persecution, coercion and stalking / cyber stalking,
  • rape, and
  • administration of substances that impair awareness (knockout drops).

This list is not exhaustive.

Recognize and Name Sexualized Discrimination and Violence

Sexualized discrimination and violence does not begin to exist only when it is recognized as such by employers, a court or in the media. It begins to exist at the moment when perpetrators violate the boundaries of those who they are harassing or against whom they use violence. Sexualized discrimination and violence can also exist if discrimination or violence was not planned or intended. In accordance with the guidelines of the Leuphana Senate (2013) for protection against discrimination, violence and sexualized harassment at the Leuphana University Lüneburg, the affected person decides for themself to draw the line between appropriate behavior and discrimination or violence. The most important thing is the experience of those affected, regardless of the intentions of the perpetrators.

Due to different factors (e.g. hierarchies at the university, media reporting, gender stereotypes), our assessment of which behavior is OK can be disturbed. We may develop a higher tolerance for things that we shouldn't tolerate at all. So it is possible that boundary crossing actions exist for a long time and are being increased to sexualized discrimination and violence without being recognized and named.

To make detection easier, we provide an overview of red flags based on the "red flags glossary" from the brochure It’s not that grey by Juliette Sanchez-Lambert & Sara Hassan from 2019 (from p. 36).

In this interactive exercise you have the opportunity to take a closer look at the characteristics of sexualized discrimination and violence using exemplary scenarios.

Examples From Everyday University Life

For better illustration, we have compiled a list of texts that contain examples of sexualized discrimination and violence (in English and German) from everyday university life. The links listed lead to texts created by various universities and other organizations in German-speaking and international contexts. They contain real examples that were created by the respective editors based on reports they received from those affected. The focus is on sexualized discrimination and violence in the university environment and in the wider professional context.



Stadt Wien: Das absolute no go. Sexuelle Belästigung am Arbeitsplatz (p. 7-8)


Universität Bielefeld: Sexualisierte Diskriminierung und Gewalt an der Hochschule (p. 11-12)


Period.Brussels: It’s not that grey. How to identify the grey area — a practical guide for the twilight zone of sexual harassment (p. 20-35)


Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network RAINN: Survivor Stories


them, a next-generation community platform: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

D'Arcee Neal: The #MeToo Movement Has Ignored Disabled People, But We Need It More Than Ever


Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte für Wien: Junge Männer und Frauen als Betroffene von sexueller Belästigung in Ausbildung und Beruf (p. 8)

Are My Actions Appropriate?

brochure about anti-discrimination at universities created by the working group for equal treatment (Arbeitskreis für Gleichbehandlungsfragen) at Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck recommends the following questions that you can ask yourself to review your own actions (p. 11):

  • Would I be happy if any of these actions became common knowledge at the university?
  • Is my position of power the same as that of the person I am approaching here?
  • Would I also behave like this if my significant other stood next to me?
  • Would it be okay if someone else behaved in this way towards me or towards someone with whom I have a close relationship?

What Are the Consequences for Those Affected?

Sexualized discrimination and violence can have massive consequences for those affected. The most common effects in the professional context are according to one recent study (2016)1:

  • Feelings of shame,
  • avoiding certain situations & places to avoid the abusive behavior/ violence,
  • low self-confidence regarding your own performance,
  • impaired mental health,
  • leaving work / dropping out of studies or the desire to do this
  • impaired physical health and
  • frequent absenteeism.

12016. Still Just A Bit Of Banter? Sexual Harassment In The Workplace In 2016.

Regulations and Guidelines Against Sexualized Discrimination and Violence

The handling of sexualized discrimination and violence is legally regulated at different levels. There is a guideline of the Leuphana senate (Leitlinie des Senats gegen Diskriminierung und Gewalt (2013)) which forbids discrimination due to for example ethnic origin, gender, being trans or intersex, religion or belief, disability, age, sexualized orientation or social origin.

There is also the Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz (short: AGG)1. Here, sexualized discrimination and violence are seen as acts of disadvantage (Benachteiligungen). Acts of disadvantage by employers or by employees are a violation of contractual obligations (AGG Section 7, Paragraph 3) and must be prevented or eliminated. Sexualized discrimination and violence according to the AGG are those behaviors that are offensive, humiliating, that are not desired by those affected and that are experienced as derogatory (AGG § 3, Paragraph 4). This can also be read in the guideline for the implementation of the AGG at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. You can read more here: Richtlinie für die Umsetzung des Allgemeinen Gleichbehandlungsgesetzes.

In the German Strafgesetzbuch (short: dStGB) there are special paragraphs that punish disregard for the right to sexualized self-determination. This includes sexualized assault and rape (Section 177). Even coercion (§ 240), insult (§ 185) or stalking (§ 238) are not a private matter, but criminal offenses. Sexualized abuse of young people (§ 182) in relation to students or trainees under the age of 18 can also play a role in the university context. You can read the relevant sections here: Strafgesetzbuch2, Gewaltschutzgesetz3 and some useful information from the police is here: Polizei.

1AGG. Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz i.d. F. v. 14. August 2006 (BGBl. I S. 1897). Zuletzt geändert durch Gesetz vom 3. April 2013 (BGBl. I S. 610) m. W. v. 21. Dezember 2012 (rückwirkend). FNA: 402-40.

2StGB. Strafgesetzbuch i.d. F. v. 13. November 1998 (BGBl. I S. 3322). Zuletzt geändert durch Gesetz vom 3. März 2020 (BGBl. I S. 431) FNA: 450-2.

3GewSchG. Gewaltschutzgesetz i.d. F. v. 11. Dezember 2001 (BGBl. I S. 3513). Zuletzt geändert durch Gesetz vom 1. März 2017 (BGBl. I S. 386) FNA: 402-38.

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The university’s stance on sexualized discrimination and violence, information on a preventative academic culture, and consequences in cases of inappropriate actions can be found here: "How Do We Cooperate at This University".

For information on support through the university, accounts of affected persons about their coping mechanisms, tips for taking action, and becoming sure and safe, please visit the page "What Can I Do If I am Personally Affected?".

You can find information on common defensive reactions and their consequences, helpful actions, how to keep a supportive attitude in a conversation, as well as information on self-care as a supporter on the following page:

"How Can I Support Affected Persons?".

A list of recommendations for raising awareness as well as materials and resources are available at "How Can I Raise Awareness in My Surroundings?".


Contact Us

Dr. Kathrin van Riesen
Universitätsallee 1, C7.323
21335 Lüneburg
Fon +49.4131.677-1060