Sexual harassment and assault in the workplace are rampant, whether we admit it or not. If you’re not convinced, here are some disturbing numbers: A recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report found that at least 1 in 4 women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Somewhere between 87 to 94% of victims don’t file a formal complaint. 75% of the harassed victims who reported it has faced some form of retaliation.
This needs to stop
It’s not easy to distinguish sexual harassment from innocent, “friendly” workplace behavior – one reason why most victims are afraid to speak up. However, there are telltale signs of verbal and physical harassment that wave a bright red flag.
If you feel like you’re being sexually harassed by a colleague or a superior in the workplace, there are signs to look for and what you can do about it.
Inappropriate physical contact
Physical contact doesn’t need to be severely sexual to be inappropriate. Acts like unnecessarily standing too close, making unsuitable pats on your back, hips, or thighs, and putting their arm around your shoulder are possible red flags.
Unwelcomed intimate conversations
Just because the person doesn’t physically contact you doesn’t mean there’s no harassment taking place. If someone in the workplace keeps asking you to discuss your personal life, including your romantic or sexual experiences, that would count as sexual harassment. The same goes for when someone is sharing many intimate details about their own sex life with you and has neglected your consent.
Unfitting remarks about your personal appearance
The comment “your dress suits you” is far different from “your dress shows off your sexy curves.” If the person keeps looking at or commenting about your body in ways that make you feel uncomfortable, it’s possible that a line was crossed.
Constantly trying to meet you alone outside of work
There should be some decency and professionalism involved when a person asks you out, especially when it’s a coworker you’re not close with or a supervisor. If you have been very clear that you don’t want to go but the person keeps asking you out for reasons that aren’t work-related, then it can be a sign of sexual harassment.
There’s gender discrimination involved
Sexual harassment isn’t limited to behaviors of sexual nature that make you intimidated. If you feel like you’re being punished for your gender, that would also be considered sexual assault.
Signs include hearing sexist jokes all day, name-calling, having different shifts and work, and being passed over for promotions and opportunities due to your gender or sexual orientation.
These actions are persistent and severe
You have acknowledged the signs and have stepped up to make it stop. You already told the person statements like, “I don’t like this”, “Please stop, it’s making me uncomfortable”, or “ I don’t want to be treated this way.” However, it keeps happening.
Simple teasing and off-hand comments aren’t considered unlawful all the time. But if these incidents are becoming so chronic or severe that the behavior creates a hostile work environment, it can be illegal.
No means no. If you’ve tried various ways to make the sexual conversations stop but the person keeps on bringing it up, that’s a clear indicator you should take further steps.
You feel pressured to go along with it
Either implicitly or explicitly, there are ways to feel like you’re not permitted to avoid the behavior.
- You fear repercussions if you speak up because you’ve seen other people demeaned or criticized for speaking up.
- You lack information on channels for filing harassment complaints.
- You receive blackmails
- The management ignores or downplays the issue
Feeling pressured to tolerate such behavior for fear of getting demoted or fired is a red flag you’re in an adverse work environment and you need to do something about it.
Actions You Can Take
There are two types of sexual harassment.
The first one is the “quid pro quo,” which refers to the exchange of sexual favors for gains, like promotion or salary increase, or avoidance of loss, like demotion or firing.
The second one is “hostile environment,” which refers to any sexual harassment that promotes an intimidating environment for the victim, such as unsolicited sex-related conversations and offensive remarks about gender.
Validate your experiences
Acknowledge all the telltale signs that made you uncomfortable. Then, assess how severe and how often. Is your consent always disregarded? Have you already told the person to stop but he/she kept on doing these provocative things?
It’s not that easy but it’s the only way. The offending party may not realize that his/her conducts are aggressive. Let them know so they’ll hopefully be more sensible. This way, you could resolve the problem without causing further workplace tension.
Follow the employer’s procedure
If the offensive conduct keeps on happening and/or the harasser tells you he/she doesn’t care, check your company’s procedure.
The documentation includes the name of the complainant and the accused, a full description of the date, location, and names of potential witnesses, and other relevant information. You might also be asked of how the incident had negatively affected the complainant and his/her ability to perform.
Keep a record of the harassment episodes
In the event the matter has escalated to the seniors, make sure you have strong evidence. Make sure you have all the messages and calls saved and recorded. Take note of the dates, times, people involved, and what’s said and done.
Know who to talk to
In some cases, the company has a designated staff responsible for receiving sexual harassment complaints. It usually falls under HR services.
If the company has no set procedure in place, talk to your immediate supervisor. If it’s your supervisor committing the act in question, complain to your supervisor’s immediate supervisor.
You might need to take legal steps if these aren’t resolved internally and the nature of the incident is severe.