There is not any surprise that sexual harassment has turned out to be a global issue. Neither any particular country is to be blamed for gender discrimination and female harassment at work nor any specific industry nor social demographic. It is an issue that affects almost everyone. From the developed United States to the underdeveloped Asian countries, workplace bullying and sexual harassment have affected many.
As more and more women are entering the workforce across the world, myriad sexual harassment cases have come to sight in the past fifteen years. According to a poll by MSN, more than 30 percent of people in the United States report to having been sexually harassed at the workplace. For women, the circumstances are more awful. More than 45 percent of women in the United States admit that they have been sexually harassed at work. Nearly half of the women between the ages of 30 and 44 reported experiencing workplace harassment. Around 47 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 64 said that they were sexually harassed at work. More than 41 percent of the younger women aging 18 to 20 reported that they have been sexually harassed at work. The 40 percent of the women of age 65 and older said they were harassed at work. It is not just women who get affected by workplace sexual harassment. Almost 15 percent of men said that they were sexually harassed at work.
What actually is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment can be explained as bullying of a sexual nature including uninvited sexual advances, verbal or physical harassment of sexual nature, request for sexual favor, unsolicited or incorrect assurance of incentive in return of sexual favor. Sexual harassment is illegal in all its forms. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the United States, It is unlawful to harass a person, who is an applicant or employer, on the basis of that person’s sex.
The definition of sexual harassment is dissimilar in different jurisdictions. Generally, the simple mocking, offhand comments and slightly isolated occurrences may not be considered harassment. Sexual harassment is the frequent or severe harassment by the manager, co-worker, employer, non-employee such as client or vendor that creates a hostile work environment and leads to confrontational employment decisions such as victim’s downgrading, dismissal or resigning. However, the understanding of sexual harassment varies from culture to culture.
How to Recognize Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is not always obvious. Not in all cases, it can be simple to find out if sexual harassment is happening to you or around you. While many are of the view that sexual harassment is physical harassment of sexual nature, it does not have to be of a sexual nature. If a person makes offensive remarks about someone’s sex, it can also be considered as sexual harassment.
You must know when an issue can be taken to court. In some courts, something is harassment which would be considered unwelcomed and sexual by a reasonable person. While some other courts determined that something is harassment only when it is harassing for a reasonable woman in case of a female victim. To help you find out if you or someone around you is being sexually harassed, we have compiled here the signs of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual behavior that makes you uncomfortable
The unwanted and inappropriate physical touch is the first sign of sexual harassment. For example, if someone stands too close and makes you feel awkward; talks in an intimate or sexually suggestive way; stares you or makes inappropriate comments on your body, appearance or dressing; asks about your personal or sexual life or talks about his own; keeps trying to meet you alone or outside of work – these all are the signs of sexual harassment. The oppressor makes you uncomfortable and enjoys his power over you.
You are unable to stop it
If you have tried to stop the oppressor many times showing that you do not like the behavior but that person has not changed the behavior, it is a clear indicator you are being sexually harassed. Though simple teasing or infrequent incidents making you uncomfortable are not very serious to be illegal, the severe or frequent harassing behavior that creates an offensive work environment and holds back your success is illegal. If you feel that you are not able to stop such behavior or you are being pressurized to go along with it, you need to take the bold step against the scoundrels.
You are afraid of upshots if you report harassment
You may not have enough information on channels for reporting sexual harassment or you may think that they won’t believe you. In most cases, the victim may not be in a position to handle the matter on its own. Also, the management ignores the issues and forces you to accept the things as they are. Your intention may not be to put someone in trouble and what only you want is to stop that annoying behavior. Many cases have been seen where the person reporting sexual harassment is criticized and declared troublemaker. All these are signs that something really very bad is happening to you.
Sexual Harassment vs. Non-Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is not just limited to unwelcome advances and inappropriate physical behavior. Here are the examples of sexual harassment at the workplace that can help you differentiate sexual and non-sexual harassment.
- Sharing sexually explicit photos or videos with co-workers
- Sending sexually suggestive emails, notes or letters
- Putting sexually explicit photos or posters on view in the workplace
- Telling vulgar jokes or sexual stories
- Making sexual gestures
- Gazing in an offensive or sexually suggestive manner
- Making sexual or offensive comments on body parts, appearance or clothing
- Asking sexual questions about someone’s sexual history or sexual orientation
- Unwanted physical touch including patting, rubbing, pinching or any other unwelcome or inappropriate physical contact
That is not all! Any sexual action or behavior that creates a hostile work environment can be considered as sexual harassment. On the other hand, adopting the inappropriate behavior with a co-worker on the basis of religion, race, color or gender can be considered as non-sexual harassment. The non-sexual harassment should be dealt with in the same way you would deal with sexual harassment. Its examples are:
- Making negative or offensive comments about someone’s religion, color or ethnic traits
- Trying to convert someone to a certain religion
- Using nicknames, racist slangs or phrases
- Making negative comments about someone’s physical or mental disability
- Making insulting age-related comments
Non-sexual harassment is not limited to these examples. Any threatening, insulting or discriminatory behavior, action or comment that upsets workplace environment can be considered as non-sexual harassment.
How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
If you are being sexually harassed at work keep in mind that you are not alone. Employers should be responsible for dealing with workplace bullying by tracking down cyber bullies in a workstation. You have several options and supporters helping you to take a step against the harasser
Bring Everything on Paper
Before you present your case somewhere, make sure you document everything. Write down everything such as your experience with the harasser; time, date, location, details and the witnesses. Also, make a report of your performance and productivity as it can be helpful during and after reporting sexual harassment.
Consult Employee Policies and File Complaint
If your company has a sexual harassment policy, follow it. Report the issue to your supervisor or human resource department or any other department responsible to deal with workplace bullying or sexual harassment. Bring the complaint against the harasser in writing and don’t forget to add the details of the harassment in your complaint and make workplace harassment free zone.
Build a Support System
Inform your family, friends or co-workers about the things you are experiencing at work. Take the people around you in confidence. Experiencing sexual harassment can be distressing during and after reporting the incident and you will need your support system to be encouraged for what you are doing. They will boost you up and help you combat the situation whether or not you take further action about the harasser.
Enforcement Agencies Contact Law
If your company does not have a policy regarding sexual harassment or your managers downplay your issue, you have the option to contact the law enforcement agencies. You can report the issue to the Police. Also, there are various non-profit organizations that provide guidance and support against the bullies. You are free to file a sexual harassment complaint with a government agency within a certain time period.
The Bottom Line
Sexual harassment in the workplace does not only affect the victim but it can also have a negative influence on co-workers, employers and the clientele. Every business must have a workplace bullying and sexual harassment policy to deal with the harassers. However, if the company fails to safeguard its workers from being a victim of sexual harassment, there are various communities and non-governmental organizations that offer support to the victims of bullying. Be confident, cautious and surround yourself with positive people who can better guide you and be your support.