Unhappy Receiver: What do I do if I am receiving inappropriate, sexual messages from a classmate?

Dear Sexpert,

cell phoneOne of my classmates keeps on sending me inappropriate, sexual text messages that I don’t feel comfortable about. What should I do? I am worried that things would be really awkward between us if I confront them.  

–Unhappy Receiver

Dear Unhappy Receiver,

It is understandably upsetting to receive unsolicited text messages that you feel are inappropriate. The situation is especially tricky since it is a classmate, not a stranger/spammer, and it sounds like you are worried about maintaining a normal relationship with them, as you may be sharing the same classroom or other environments throughout college. There are plenty of tips out there regarding the latter but fewer available on this situation.  

First, it may be helpful for you to reflect upon what aspects of your classmate’s messages make you feel uncomfortable. Is it just the content, or is it also the frequency at which they are sending the messages to you? If the text content is clearly sexually suggestive, or even explicit, then you may want to tell them directly to stop and express the discomfort they are causing you. This content could include unwanted come-ons, sexual comments, unwelcome jokes, images or offensive language, or remarks about sex, gender identity or gender expression.  

If you get the sense that they are looking for a romantic relationship, tell them that you are uninterested (or are in a relationship with someone else, if that is the case). Your classmate may feel embarrassed or rejected, and you might feel uncomfortable, but acknowledging their interest and clearly indicating that it is not reciprocated is the best course of action. If you are unsure of their intentions, you may want to let your classmate know of your perception and feelings first to clarify any miscommunication. Open communication is also critical if the reason for your discomfort is due to the frequency of the texts; by letting them know what content and how often you are comfortable communicating, hopefully the situation will be resolved with minimal conflict.

Furthermore, it is important for you to consider what kind of relationship (if any) you want to maintain with your classmate going forward. If the person does not stop their behavior after you communicate your discomfort, you may consider either ignoring said classmate or blocking them over text and on social media.

If the classmate persists in their behavior, the situation could be considered a case of sexual harassment. As defined by Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities, sexual harassment includes any “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior which is directed at a person based on sex, gender identity or gender expression, when these behaviors are sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to have the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s educational experience, working conditions, or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment”. Alternatively, this could also be considered stalking, which entails more than one action directed at an individual that result in distress, fear for safety for self or a third party. In these cases, you may want to seek confidential advice from Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education (SHARE) or Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) clinicians. Professional counselors will be able to help you chart out different options and courses of action, which are extremely helpful especially if you are feeling distressed or confused.

Given that this is a complex situation with many factors, there is no one solution that works in all scenarios. However, with clear communication and the help of support resources on campus, hopefully the situation can be resolved and your comfort level can be restored.

~ The Sexpert

Information retrieved from SHARE, New York Times, Rights Rules and Responsibility Handbook.