Although a sexual focus must be present for sexual harassment to have occurred, this dimension is not clearly developed. A wide variety of behaviors may be considered sexual, and the intent of an actor becomes an issue in concluding if a gesture is sexual. As a consequence, behaviors that may be designated as sexual harassment range from making a person uncomfortable with sexual innuendos to forced sexual intercourse. Intent is an issue because perpetrators may deny their behavior was sexual, saying

“I’m a friendly person who touches everybody,” or deny it was harassing, saying “We all enjoy off-color jokes.” Others may argue their behavior signified sexual attraction.

People need to engage in open negotiation of boundaries. Boundary definition often deals with ambiguous behavior (i. e., telling of jokes) that may vary in significance as a function of context, as well as very clear demarcations of categories of what is acceptable or not acceptable. In or­ganizations, people need to talk openly about the place of sexuality rather than act as if it is something that will become an insurmountable problem if brought out into the open. At the most basic level people need to feel free to indicate in a nonconfrontational way that another person’s behavior is violating their boundaries of acceptable conduct. In one U. S. army unit sexual harassment complaints were reduced by simply having people say “let’s not go there” when other parties were saying or doing things that made them uncomfortable.

On university campuses faculty and students may oppose policies reg­ulating consensual relations. Male and female opponents argue that sex is fun and that they do not want it removed from their lives. Some of the arguments brought up in defense of sex with minors or incest include the notion that the less powerful person wanted the sexual activity or the less powerful person acted so provocatively that the more powerful person ei­ther lost control or simply had no choice.

Worker norms that discourage individuals from challenging ongoing practices may serve to discourage individuals from taking action against harassing behavior from a supervisor. In many organizations, workers have the mantra, “you’ve got to go along, to get along.” If a woman is offended by sexual remarks or behaviors, her coworkers may discourage her taking action by playing down the significance of the behavior or emphasizing the disruptive consequences for all of an accusation of harassment.