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What do we mean by bullying, harassment and sexual harassment?


Harassment is unwanted behaviour which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Harassment usually occurs when an individual or group of individuals are repeatedly and deliberately abused, threatened and/or humiliated, but in most serious cases if a behavior happens only once it can still be harassment.

Acts constituting harassment relates to the characteristics of a person such as:

  • sex,
  • gender,
  • gender identity or expression,
  • race, colour,
  • ethnic or social origin,
  • language,
  • religion, belief,
  • political or any other opinion,
  • membership of a national minority,
  • birth,
  • health conditions including mental health,
  • disability
  • age,
  • or sexual orientation

Harassment can take place in any type of interaction between people, face-to-face, in social media, email and written communication.

In some cases, harassment may also amount to the offence of stalking under the Italian Penal Code.

Examples of harassment

Examples of harassment can include, but are not limited to:

  • unwanted physical contact, sexual advances, sexual coercion;
  • Racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or ageist jokes, or derogatory or stereotypical remarks about a particular ethnic or religious group or gender;
  • Forms of behaviour that patronise, insult, or offend people with a disability, impairment, or neurodiversity.
  • offensive gestures, posters or graffiti;
  • ignoring or shunning someone, for example, by deliberately excluding them from a conversation or a social activity.
  • outing or threatening to out someone as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans
  • personal intrusion from pestering, spying and stalking;
  • failure to safeguard confidential information;
  • setting impossible deadlines, persistent unwarranted criticism.

Sexual harassment

A form of harassment that consists of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical behaviour of sexual nature. It has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, and it creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Sexual harassment can include retaliatory conduct in response to rejection of sexual advances and online harassment via social media and all forms of electronic communication.

A person does not have to verbally object to sexual harassment for it to be harassment.

Sexual Harassment can be experienced or perpetrated by any person - regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, position of power and/or other defining characteristics.

Examples of sexual harassment

Examples of sexual harassment can include, but are not limited to:

  • Any form of behaviour relating to a person's sex or sexuality that patronises or causes offence, discomfort, or intimidation. This could be expressed in remarks, looks, attitudes, jokes, or offensive language, and could take place in in-person communication, as well as electronically;
  • Unwanted sexual or sexually suggestive comments including jokes and name-calling.
  • Unwanted or unnecessary touching or physical contact
  • Making gestures or touching oneself suggestively in front of others
  • Stalking/Cyberstalking
  • The display or electronic transmission of pornographic, semi-pornographic, suggestive, or homophobic material, unless justified in the academic context and without prejudice to artistic freedom.
  • Spreading sexual rumours
  • Demanding dates or hugs
  • Making threats
  • Using derogatory or insulting language about a person’s gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation


Psychological harassment and bullying is any improper conduct that is usually repetitive or systematic. It can take the form of physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct. Bullying can take place in any type of interaction between people, face-to-face, in social media, email and written communication.

Bullying is intentional and may undermine the personality, dignity, or physical or psychological integrity of any person.

Bullying is normally characterised by a pattern of behaviour conducted by one person or a group of persons, but also a single incident could be considered as bullying behaviour.

Legitimate, reasonable and constructive criticism of performance or behaviour, or reasonable instructions given to staff in the course of their employment, will not amount to bullying on their own.

Examples of bullying

Examples of bullying can include, but are not limited to:

  • academic bullying, meaning asserting a position of intellectual superiority in an aggressive, abusive, or offensive manner, or making ungrounded threats of academic failure;
  • public reprimand, ridicule, sarcasm, or humiliation;
  • constant criticism or trivialising of another’s achievements;
  • verbal and/or physical intimidation;
  • setting arbitrary or unachievable workloads, and making threats associated with failure;

How can you determine if a behavior amounts to harassment?

People in different countries have been found to have a different understanding of what constitutes harassment or sexual harassment at work. To consider a conduct as harassment or sexual harassment it is necessary to have due regard to the circumstances of the case, including the perception that the affected person has of the situation. This means that it should be considered whether the action would be regarded as harassment by a reasonable person who is, or who ought to be, well-informed about an accepted range of appropriate social behaviours, with all due respect for cultural values.

You are encouraged to contact the Confidential Harassment Advice Service for advice and institutional support. See the dedicated page for more information.

You are encouraged (but not required) to contact law enforcement and seek medical treatment as soon as possible following an incident that poses a threat to safety or physical well- being or following a potential criminal offense.

To lodge a formal harassment or bullying complaint at EUI, you can contact the Harassment Decision-Panel. See the dedicated page for more information.

Page last updated on 19/01/2024

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