It seems as though there has been no shortage of sexual harassment stories in the news as of late. High-profile cases such as those at Fox News and Uber have made headlines in the last few weeks, but the truth is that sexual harassment is far more common than we like to think. Sadly, most women who are sexually harassed never report the inappropriate behavior they witness or experience. In fact, some research has found that as much as 75% of sexual harassment incidents go unreported. Why?
Most women choose not to report sexual harassment for fear of retaliation. Although prohibited by Title VII, many women who report harassment face a backlash at work. They are denied promotion opportunities, given less challenging assignments, and blacklisted as “troublemakers.” For others, reporting the inappropriate conduct to their HR departments feels useless because the company is often more concerned with protecting itself than it is with protecting the complaining employee.
If you’re being sexually harassed at work, or if you’ve witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace, below are a few things you can do:
- Tell the harasser to stop. By clear in setting your boundaries and tell the person that you find their behavior offensive. Put it in writing, if possible.
- Keep detailed records. Document every incident of harassment that you experience or observe. Make sure to include names, dates, times, locations, witnesses, and a detailed explanation of the offensive conduct.
- File a complaint with your HR department. For the reasons mentioned above, this may not feel like your best option. But most companies have anti-harassment policies and many HR departments are skilled at handling these issues appropriately and with sensitivity. Read up on your company’s policy before reaching out to get a sense of the processes and procedures that will occur after you make a report.
- Talk to a lawyer. If you’ve not had any headway with your HR department, or if you feel the behavior is egregious, consult an attorney to understand what remedies may be available to you.
- Seek Support. Most importantly of all, make sure that you reach out to your support system, be it a family member, friend, trusted colleague or therapist. Sexual harassment can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, shame, insecurity, and depression. Do NOT feel that you need to deal with it alone.