Sexual harassment is a serious workplace offense that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical contact that is sexual in nature. When sexual harassment happens, either implicitly or explicitly, an individual’s employment is affected. This behavior may interfere with the victim’s ability to do his or her work or create a hostile work environment.
Facts about Sexual Harassment
There are two types of sexual harassment:
Quid pro quo- This less common form of sexual harassment occurs when employment conditions are based upon the victim providing sexual favors.
Hostile environment- This type of sexual harassment is characterized as unwelcome, severe, and persistent sexual conduct. It creates an uncomfortable and hostile work environment. Examples of this conduct are crude jokes, lewd postures, leering, inappropriate touching, and rape. Nearly 95 percent of all sexual harassment cases are related to a hostile environment.
Sexual harassers do not need to be the opposite gender of the victim. It can be a boss, coworker, or a nonemployee, but their behavior must be unwelcome. Direct victims are not just the people being harassed, as anyone affected by sexual harassment is a victim.
Effects of Sexual Harassment
Effects and consequences of sexual harassment are wide-ranging, both in how they impact the victim and the work environment.
For the individual:
- Depression, sleep issues, poor concentration at work, and fear are common effects.
For the work environment:
- High staff turnover, low company reputation, legal costs, poor morale among staff, and lack of teamwork characterize a workplace where sexual harassment is tolerated.
Sexual harassment can also have an economic impact as the victim could lose his or her job, wages, or benefits. Sometimes an individual is fired for another circumstance, but the real reason is failing to comply with sexual demands. In other instances, a victim may be denied a promotion, demoted, or forced to relocate or placed in another position.
Another consequence can be victim blaming. This occurs when the harasser or other coworkers hold the victim responsible, either for the sexual harassment or the resulting conflicts after the behavior has been reported. Some people may feel the victim could have stopped the harassment or was “asking for it.”
How to Handle Sexual Harassment
In the event you or your coworkers are facing sexual harassment, it’s important to know you are not powerless. Follow these guidelines to help protect yourself and others:
Be direct- Talk to the harasser if you feel comfortable doing so. Be direct and firm, telling them to stop. You can make your request verbally or in written form. Communicate your concerns with a human resources person or your supervisor, or access any grievance system that exists in your workplace.
Practice prevention- Obviously, the best way to handle sexual harassment is to prevent it. If you are an employer, have policies in place and require your employees to attend trainings dealing with this topic. As an employee, be familiar with any sexual harassment information in your company manual. Also, consider suggesting this as a possible topic for training and discussion.
Support- Seek out family, friends, or a mental health professional to talk. Find emotional support to cope with the impact of sexual harassment, and never assume that you should be able to just “shake it off.”
Accept- Understand this was not your fault, and focus on forming relationships with supportive people. No one should tell you how to feel about the situation.
Document- Keeping an accurate log is critical. You should have documentation of your work, the behavior of the perpetrator, and the follow-up actions.
Your work- Keep any evaluations or emails you have that support your work as an employee.
Harassing behavior- Detail a report of what happened, where it occurred, what was said and done, and who else was present. Ask your coworkers to consider writing statements about what they witnessed. Keep track of any negative consequences that occurred when or if you refused to submit to the sexual harassment.
The follow-up- Record (audio or written) what was said, who was present, and what actions were taken. Be sure to document any retaliation that occurs as a result of your complaint.
After taking steps to find healing and closure, some sexual harassment victims choose to “pay it forward.” They might resolve to educate others about the dangers, behaviors, and effects of sexual harassment. Strategies might include writing about your experience, participating in a support group, or joining an organization that’s dedicated to fighting sexual harassment.
Victimization does not need to be the end of the story. If you or someone you know has been traumatized by sexual harassment, be courageous. Help is available through support groups, mental health professionals, and other community organizations.
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