What do Japanese young people exactly mean by 「セクハラ」? Do they think it is negative, or only slightly negative, or not negative?

I've often heard Japanese university students throw around the term 「セクハラ」 as something which they accuse each other of or remark that someone did to them, but do not seem to be implying behaviors that are illegal, an unethical violation of human rights, or particularly offensive or negative (like the English definition of "sexual harassment" would). The Japanese casual use of this term does not seem to mean unwelcome bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, sexist language, promise of reward for sexual favors, sexual abuse, or sexual assault. I have heard it used involving a girl acting as if she is reaching out to touch another girl's chest but doesn't go through with it. I have heard it used when a girl pounced on the back of a boy and kept hugging him from behind despite his protests. When I tried Googling 「セクハラ」 I only found websites defining it in a serious and legal way.

I want to explain to my Japanese students that they should be careful with this term when speaking with internationals or abroad, as it is not appropriate in English to lightheartedly refer to oneself as inflicting or undergoing any sort of harassment. I think I could explain this better to them if I can better understand what they mean by the term.

Thank you!

1 Answer 1


It means what it says, but the severity of the accusation changes by context, perhaps this is because it is a non-indigenous imported word, although most know what it means, the social context has not been set as a norm, it could be a dead serious accusation, or just said lightly as in saying "stop hitting on me", who says it, and how matter.

If you are to explain to Japanese students about the seriousness of the word, you should emphasize that the word "sexual harassment" is not used as casually as it is in Japan, that it would be like using "性的いやがらせ" which usually is not used casually.Perhaps giving examples of slang terminology that could be used that won't be so strong may help, although that could lead to other problems.

  • Just to add, the term 「セクハラ」 itself has a casual feel, due to its shortened nature (though it can and has been used in serious cases). If it was spelled out (セクシャルハラスメント) it would sound more serious.
    – Jimmy
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 20:05

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