Where to Call . . . If you feel you have a problem with sexaul harassment, you can contact your local Human Rights Commission or these groups for referrals and help: D.C. Commission for Women, 724-5581 D.C. Office of Human Rights, 727-3101 Feminist Law Collective, 783-3410 Women's Legal Defense Fund, 638-1123 Alliance Against Sexual Coercion, P.O. Box 1, Cambridge, Mass. 02130 Working Women United Institute, 593 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10021

It can be as subtle as a leer, as quick as a pat on the behind or as blatant as an invitation to hop into bed. It happens to women in various age groups and occupations, married and single. Ignoring it does not make it go away.

Sexual harassment is the single most widespread occupational problem women face in the work force, according to the Working Women United Institute, a national resource center based in New York.

Seventy percent of women responding to a WWUI survey said they have experienced sexual harassment, defined as "repeated and unwanted sexual comments, looks, suggestions or physical contact that you find objectionable and cause you discomfort on your job."

More than 90 percent was verbal and 56 percent included physical harassment. A quarter of the women who ignored the sexual advances said they were "punished" with such actions as unwarranted reprimands and undermining of their work.

Yet most women do not make formal complaints about sexual harassment. A majority felt nothing would be done, some felt they would be ridiculed and other thought they would be blamed.

"In a sense, sexual harassment is like rape," said a female manager of a federal government agency. "Women are not interested in prosecuting because it's too threatening. They are afraid of how it might affect their personal relationships - that their boyfriends or husbands will think they were being provocative or that they brought it on themselves."

That attitude may be changing, according to Catharine A. MacKinnon, a practicing attorney and professor at Yale University. In the last few years several federal courts have declared sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts.

"This gives women a new and important way of fighting back," says MacKinnon, who claims she coined the term "sexual harassment" when she began examining the topic as an independent study project at Yale. "Because it's illegal, it gives women permission to say it's wrong and they don't have to put up with it.

"Objection to sexaul harassment at work is not a neopuritan protest against signs of attraction displays of affection, compliments, flirtation or touching on the job," she contends."It is a protest against sex that is onesided, unwelcome or comes with strings attached . . . coming from someone with the economic power to hire or fire, help or hinder, reward or punish."

There are two basic categories of sexual harassment, MacKinnon says in her book "Sexual Harassment of Working Women" (Yale Press, 312 pages, $5.95).

Sher terms the first Quid Pro Quo , in which sexual compliance is exchanged or proposed for an employment opportunity. For example, the woman who must sleep with a supervisor to get a promotion, a day off or a prized assignment. Or the woman who is fired because she refuses.

"Less clear, and undoubtedly more pervasive is the situation in which sexual harassment simply makes the work environment unbearable," writes MacKinnon. She calls this second category Condition of Work .

"Unwanted sexual advances, made simply because she has a woman's body, can b a daily part of a woman's life. She may be constantly felt or pinched, surreptitiously kissed, commented upon, manipulated into being found alone - but never promised or denied anything explicity connected with her job. A woman can put up with it or leave."

The secretary who is required to sit on her boss' lap to take dictation, the teen-ager who must listen to her supervisor's martial-sexual problems or the waitress instructed to allow the customers to touch her legs are victims of what MacKinnon calls "a slightly fancier form of prostitution."

So far courts have recognized the economic implications of Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment. In a handful of cases, they have upheld the legal argument that this constitutes illegal sex discrimination. The victim must prove that there was an advance, that she rejected it and that there was retaliation.

However, the Condition of Work form of sexual harassment has yet to be upheld in court, notes MacKinnon. She cites a recent case, involving District Correction Department employe Sandra G. Bundy, as an example of the frustrations encountered when taking a charge of sexaul harassment to court.

U.S. District Court Judge George L. Hart Jr., after finding that four male supervisors made improper sexual advances to Bundy, called it "a game." Hart ruled further that Bundy's prompt rejections of the advances did not result in harassment or denial of promotions. (Bundy claims her promotions have been delayed and is appealing the verdict.)

"There is almost nothing you can do about sexual harassment that does not involve a risk," says MacKinnon, who advises any woman who feels she has a problem to consult an attorney.

One safe thing a woman can do is keep a journal of any comments made or situations created that she feels constitute sexual harassment. Write down everything about the incident - who was there, the exact comments or advances made and the words used in refusing. This can be helpful in talking with an attorney and can be a good "reality-testing tool," says MacKinnon, for the woman who tends to block out past incidents or who wonders whether it's "all in her head.

Also, suggests MacKinnon, file evaluations of your work performance, complimentary letters and any other documents that indicate how well you do your job.

If the person who harasses you has warned you not to tell anyone, you may run the risk of recriminations should you go to your union representative, personnel department or EEOC counselor, MacKinnon warns.

However, these persons might be able to help. Each case is unique, but usually it is better to complain in writing, early on. "That way," says MacKinnon, "you can prove that you objected." CAPTION: Picture, no caption, Photo by Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post