Workplace sexual harassment is a monumental societal problem that damages individuals and undermines companies. One in three women have experienced (or will experience) harassment at work. Nine percent of men report workplace sexual harassment as well. Despite laws and company policies, acts of harassment often happen in private and go unreported.
Those on the receiving end of these actions often refrain from reporting them for two key reasons: they don't know how to navigate the next steps and (or) they don't realize that the experience falls into this category. In the movies, acts of sexual harassment seem obvious. In real life, this isn't always the case. If you think you've been harassed, get the facts and find out how to fight back.
1. Identify it
Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify harassment. Stop and think. Ask yourself a few questions.
What is the behavior that bothers me? Is it comments that have sexual undertones? Is that person touching me in an overly friendly way?
Do I fear (or dread) running into this person?
Do I feel uncomfortable or ashamed when I think about these interactions?
Do these interactions interfere with my work performance? Does my workplace feel hostile?
Don't brush off the incidents, blame yourself, or make excuses for your harasser. You don't lack of sense of humor because you don't want to hear sexual jokes at work. Perhaps you carry tension in your shoulders, but that doesn't give coworkers the green light to massage you without your permission. Refusing to date (or do sexual acts with) your coworker doesn't make you prude. Regardless of what your superior might say, you never need to tolerate sexual jokes or advances to advance your career.
2. Workplace sexual harassment happens to men too
According to broad statistics, most incidents of workplace harassment are committed by male employees. Make no mistake — men experience sexual harassment as well. If you are a man who feels bothered by actions of coworkers, you can take action. Trust your instincts. If your friends tell you that you should be flattered by the attention, ignore their words. Women, help your male coworkers. Encourage them to stand up for themselves. If you hear colleagues mock a male harassment victim's situation, stand up for him. Harassment is wrong.
3. Contact HR
Can you talk to your offending coworker about his or her behavior? It's okay if you cannot. Your HR department will help you. If you're afraid to report the incident of workplace sexual harassment because you fear you'll be ignored (or persecuted), understand that you aren't the first person to walk this path. Your HR managers are required to listen to your concerns respectfully. That's their job.
If they don't help you, know that you still have options. First, record and document the incident and document your conversation with HR. Next, file a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). After that, you can contact a local law firm and explain your case. If you experience retaliation when your case is investigated, you'll face options that allow you to deal with both the original harassment and the retaliation as well. No matter what, someone will help you.
4. Decide if you want to stay
At some point, you might decide that this is too much for you. It might be easier if you quit your job. There's no shame in cutting ties and taking your talents elsewhere. But if you don't want to be driven out by a broken system, keep pushing back. No matter the final outcome, your efforts will provide support to others trapped in a similar situation (sometimes one harasser has multiple victims, many of them silent). And the company changes that take place as a result of your actions will pave the way for those who follow you.
For more on how to stop and prevent workplace harassment, or find a new job when you choose to, turn to the resources at MyPerfectResume.