Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any conduct with a sexual connotation that is unwanted by the recipient or degrades persons on the basis of their sex.

This page offers affected persons and interested parties:

  • Information: what is sexual harassment?
  • Explanations: what should you do if you are affected by sexual harassment? What should you do if you have observed inappropriate behaviour?
  • Resources: information and support services

We do not tolerate sexual harassment. We, and in particular persons in positions of authority, have a responsibility to ensure a harassment-free environment. The basis for this are the Code of Conduct and the Regulations for the protection of personal integrity of Bern University of Applied Sciences.

Persons affected by sexual harassment receive counselling and support. Persons who engage in harassment are held accountable.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any conduct with a sexual connotation that is unwanted by the recipient or degrades persons on the basis of their sex.

Sexual harassment can take different forms, such as:

  • lewd, demeaning or disdainful comments or jokes;
  • display or distribution of sexist, especially pornographic, material;
  • sexual assault, the soliciting of sexual acts, unwelcome physical contact and obtrusive behaviour;
  • sexual advances which exploit a relationship of dependency or which are made with a promise of advantages or threat of disadvantages;
  • sexual acts and behaviours that are punishable under law.

Is it flirting or sexual harassment? – What are the differences?

Drawing the line between harmless flirtation, friendly relations and sexual harassment can seem difficult at first glance. But there’s a simple rule: the decisive factor is not the intention of the person acting, but how their behaviour is received by the affected person – whether or not one gets too close to them in an unwelcome way.

Flirting …
… is a mutual thing
… is constructive, encouraging
… is desired by both sides
… boosts self-esteem
… triggers joy
… makes everyday work more enjoyable
… respects personal boundaries

Sexual harassment
… is a one-sided approach
… is humiliating, insulting
... is not desired by a person
… undermines self-esteem
… triggers anger
… poisons the working environment
… violates personal boundaries

You’ve experienced an incident – what should you do?

1. Address the person directly:

  • Immediately and unambiguously inform the offending person or persons that their behaviour is unwelcome and will not be tolerated.
  • If you do not feel that you are being taken seriously and the harassment continues, tell the harassing persons that you will submit a complaint.

2. Address the person indirectly:

  • If you are afraid of a direct confrontation with the harassing person or your efforts have been unsuccessful, write them a letter or an e-mail.
  • Specify in writing what bothers you and demand that they stop the harassing behaviour in the future.
  • Make a copy of this letter or e-mail.

3. Confide in others:

  • Talk to people you trust.
  • Seek the opportunity to speak with colleagues as well. Maybe you are not the only person being harassed and you can respond together with others.

4. Confidential counselling and support:

  • Seek confidential advice if you need support or if the incidents continue.
  • Contact the relevant contact points. Specially trained professionals listen to you, advise you and assist you confidentially and free of charge.

5. Internal contact via the line manager or report to the Investigative Service:

  • If you would like us to do something, talk to your supervisor, the HR consultant responsible for you, your teachers or the head of your degree programme, or contact the BFH Investigative Service.
  • You can find information on making internal contact via the line manager or reporting to the Investigative Service on the page about the protection of personal integrity at BFH.

 6. Legal action:

  • The law offers various tools to defend oneself against sexual harassment.
  • Be sure to seek advice if you are considering legal action.

Source: Sexual harassment in the workplace – A guide for employees, 2007 (FOGE-SECO)

Counselling Centre Universities of Bern contact person

Mirjam Zeiter, M. Sc.

T    +41 31 636 82 70

You’ve witnessed an incident – what should you do?

How should you behave when you observe sexual harassment in your environment? You can assist the person who experienced the harassment with the following actions:

  • Don’t laugh when people make sexist remarks or jokes.
  • Talk to the person if you think or notice that they are being sexually harassed.
  • Encourage them to actively fight back.
  • Accompany them to meetings with external confidential contacts or the responsible internal contacts.
  • Inform managers of the harassment.
  • Make yourself available as a witness.

Source: Sexual harassment in the workplace – A guide for employees, 2007 (FOGE-SECO)

More about this topic

Sexual Harassement Awareness Day

Every year in spring, Swiss universities draw attention to sexual harassment in the university context as part of Sexual Harassment Awareness Day. We also take part in this important day of action.

The aim of the campaign is to prevent sexual harassment and sexism. Our university aims to create and cultivate a culture in which sexual harassment has no place.

The Investigative Service

The Investigative Service has an obligation to act as soon as it becomes aware of a violation of personal integrity. You can contact the Investigative Service at or contact a member of the Investigative Service directly.