What to Do if You Are Sexually Harassed

NOTE:  THIS IS THE SECOND OF A TWO-PART SERIES

A female bank employee is invited out to dinner by her supervisor.  She is a former bank teller who has worked her way up to a position as assistant bank manager.  She has resisted her boss’ sexual advances up to now.  At dinner he suggests going to a local motel.  She puts him off during the meal, but finally out of fear of losing her job, eventually gives in.  Over the next several years he often makes demands for sexual favors during and after work.  She estimates that she has had sex with him 40 or 50 times.  Finally, she could not take it anymore, went on leave and was fired.  Is this sexual harassment?

How about this?  A male supervisor propositions several of his female employees during daily walks around the office.  Later he is heard to say that he is promoting one because “she knows how to make me feel good.”  Is this considered sexual harassment?

The courts ruled that both of the above cases constituted sexual harassment.  There are several reasons why women (and occasionally men) are reluctant to file sexual harassment charges.  First, if a woman makes a charge against a man, the issue could become not of the man’s behavior—but of the woman’s character, motives and mental stability.

Second, women may feel ambivalent about confronting male mentors who can have enormous influence on their careers and who they probably like and don’t want to hurt.  They may also feel that if they speak up they may hurt his marriage, family, job or career.Feelings of confusion, shame or even quilt are common.  A woman may feel that she is to blame—or is overreacting.  Also, she may fear that she will have to repeat what happened in detail to many people.  And of course, there is very real fear of hurting her career or losing her job.

Here’s what you can do if you are sexually harassed:

  • Trust your feelings and recognize sexual harassment when it happens.  Understand that it is not your fault and that it does not come with the job.
  • Learn about your legal rights in your organization’s policies and procedures.
  • Talk to the harasser, telling him (or her) what you find offensive about his/her behavior, its impact on you and what kind of behavior you want to receive in the future.
  • Put your objections in writing; send a copy to the harasser and keep one for your files.
  • Tell others about the harassment, including supervisors, colleagues, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission counselors, union representatives and friends.
  • Document all incidents—and all conversations about the incidents.
  • Document your job performance in case any work related retaliation should occur.
  • Don’t blame yourself.  Seek support.
  • Talk with others who may have been the recipients of similar treatment from your harasser(s), and if possible make a plan together.  Also talk to any possible witnesses to enlist their support.

If you witness someone else’s sexual harassment or what you think might be sexual harassment, talk to the targets involved and let them know you see what is happening and want to be supportive.  You could also let the harasser know how you feel “I find this behavior offensive and out of line for the work place.”

Source:  Confronting Sexual Harassment by Louise Eberhardt (Whole Person Associates)

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