Physical harassment refers to methods of coercement, threats, or bullying that involve physical gestures or threats. There are many different forms this type of behavior can take, from blocking someone's path to the threat of physical violence. Workplaces and schools often have strict guidelines regarding this form of intimidation or abuse; in some areas, there are legal penalties for harassment as well.
Defining physical harassment can be tricky, as it involves the relative effect of the perpetrator's actions. For some people, physical gestures such as punching or playful shoving can be an acceptable level of behavior between friends. The same behavior can be defined as harassment if the person on the receiving end is offended or feels threatened or uncomfortable. Abiding by professional guidelines and being sensitive to the reactions of others can help reduce confusion over what type of behavior is acceptable.
Often, physical harassment is used to frighten or threaten another person into performing an act or behaving a certain way. This type of behavior is often known as bullying, and can be a serious problem at school, work, or in personal relationships. People may threaten violence in order to get something they want, or to simply make another person feel insecure or afraid. Many people are afraid to bring bullying harassment to authorities in fear of being physically harmed by the bully.
Although bullies often employ threats and violence in order to get something they want, some also physically harass people they simply do not like. Throughout history, certain groups of the population have been subject to frequent and serious physical harassment issues, particularly if they threaten the status quo of the bullies. During the civil rights movement in America, many demonstrators were harassed and abused for protesting segregation and unconstitutional behavior. It is an unfortunate and regular problem that discussions of extending civil rights often result in harassment of the group in question.
In some cases, physical harassment can turn into physical or sexual abuse. If a person inappropriately touches another, or threatens physical violence if sexual favors are not performed, it is typically considered sexual abuse. Like all forms of abuse, this event can be severely traumatic for the abused party and may result in severe stress and psychological repercussions. The possibility of a progression from harassment to abuse is one of the reasons why many experts say that all instances of harassment or threats need to be reported to authorities and handled immediately by those in charge.