Years ago little attention was paid to to the issue of sexual harassment. Today, if you are being sexually harassed, you have many options for punishing the perpetrator, stopping the harassment, and obtaining damages. Keep this advice in mind if you find yourself having to deal with sexual harassment either in the workplace or in your personal life.
Sexual harassment occurs across a broad spectrum. Both victim and harasser can be of different genders or the same sex. The most violent type is of course criminal, but there are also less assaultive types of harassment. If you feel that someone is speaking to you or touching you (even very slightly) in a way that makes you uncomfortable and is unwelcome, don’t be afraid to confront the issue and give voice to your feelings. There are many examples of unwelcome attention: pressure to hold hands, giving or requesting unwanted neck and back massages, putting a hand on your leg, stroking your back, brushing up against you in an unwanted way, leering, etc. If you are experiencing any of this, you may be a victim of sexual harassment. If you are being pressured to participate in an intimate relationship in exchange for a promotion or to simply remain in your job, you are definitely the victim of sexual harassment.
Yes! Words matter. That old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is not true when it comes to sexual harassment. This is especially so in the workplace. If you are an employee in a work situation where inappropriate language, conversation and innuendos seem to occur whenever you are present, that can be deemed a hostile work environment. Examples of verbal harassment can include sexual jokes, comments about certain parts of the body, asking questions about a person’s sex life, making offensive noises, encouraging fellow employees to discuss sexual fantasies, etc. Courts have awarded damages to employees forced to work under those conditions.
Regardless of your age, there are times that what you may think of as harassment is actually criminal in nature. And if that is the case, the threat of law enforcement involvement is often enough to stop the behavior. Unwanted touching of intimate body parts, intentionally exposing sexual organs, pinching and grabbing of sexual parts of another, attempted sexual assault or actual assault are all crimes in most jurisdictions. If you are the victim of any of these you should contact your local police department and make a complaint.
Sexual harassment, of teens in particular, often occurs on facebook, through texting, emails, etc. Electronic harassment is at the very least a misdemeanor offense in most states. Harassing someone by sending obscene photos, videos or pictures can also be considered a violation of law. Constant phone calls that are sexual in nature and made for the purpose of intentionally disturbing and annoying the person called is also a criminal act.
There is help available if you are the victim of sexual harassment. There are hotlines, sexual assault alliances, and women’s organizations that can give you advice. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1- 800-669-4000 deals with harassment in the workplace. If you are in a workplace with an HR department, be sure to report the situation. Call an attorney or your local bar association to locate an attorney who specializes in this area. Sometimes the threat of a civil suit will stop the harassment. If you decide to go forward with a lawsuit, you can recoup lost wages and other damages.
It is very important to document the offending behavior. Keep a journal of what is occurring at your workplace or school even if you are unsure if it constitutes harassment. Save voicemails, emails, and texts that are offensive. Take snapshots of facebook entries. Keep a list of every complaint you made, to whom, when, where, and why. Be sure to include if you missed work or could not complete assignments as a result of the harassment. Keep a list of witnesses to the harassment. If you feel that you have been passed over for a promotion document your evaluations.
Sometimes, victims of sexual harassment report that their initial complaints to friends, relatives, colleagues or superiors are disregarded. Don’t be deterred. Stay calm and be factual in your recounting of incidents. Explain your perspective and that you have given the offender more than enough opportunity to stop the behavior. You can confront the offender on your own if you feel comfortable doing so, and insist that they stop the harassment. Be clear that you will avail yourself of more serious options if the behavior is not discontinued.
If you see something, say something. If you are present when someone is being sexually harassed, it is the same as standing by when someone is being bullied. It is important to isolate the offender and show that the victim has widespread support. When that happens, the harasser will typically end the behavior. You do not do your employer or academic institution any favor by allowing this to continue. It may ultimately end in a lawsuit with significant monetary damages and/or vilification in the press.
In most instances of sexual harassment, the victims are in a less powerful position than the harassers. This can be true in the workplace, an academic institution, or even among friends. Don’t feel that you have to play along, instead try first to distance yourself by walking away and not responding. If that fails, make it clear privately to the harasser that you are offended. If the harassment is being conducted publicly, respond in a cool, professional and calm manner in that same public space.
Once this type of thing begins, it often continues if it is not stopped. Continuous sexual harassment can wear down the victim causing depression, anxiety, and stress. These in turn can cause your work to decline, your grades to suffer, and your relationships to unravel. It is absolutely unnecessary for this to happen as there are numerous professionals out there to provide assistance. If the harassment is aggressive enough, you may recover lost wages, future wages, and compensation for other types of damages from either the harasser, the employer or both.
There was a time that sexual harassment was considered funny, joked about in movies, television, and in comedy routines. The reality, even then, was not humorous for the victims. If you are being sexually harassed, no one will think it is a joke anymore. You should feel confident and secure in the knowledge that you have the power to stop the behavior and seek redress if you have suffered as a result.
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