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In the workplace, harassment may be considered illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted, or the victim quitting the job).
The legal and social understanding of sexual harassment, however, varies by culture.
In the book In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (1999), journalist Susan Brownmiller quotes the Cornell activists who in 1975 thought they had coined the term sexual harassment: "Eight of us were sitting in an office ...
brainstorming about what we were going to write on posters for our speak-out.
We wanted something that embraced a whole range of subtle and un-subtle persistent behaviors.
In the context of US employment, the harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer, and harassers or victims can be of any gender.
Sexual harassment is a form of illegal employment discrimination in many countries, and is a form of abuse (sexual and psychological) and bullying.
For many businesses or organizations, preventing sexual harassment, and defending employees from sexual harassment charges, have become key goals of legal decision-making.
The concept of sexual harassment, in its modern understanding, is a relatively new one, dating from the 1970s onwards; although other related concepts have existed prior to this in many cultures.