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In October of 2017, cases of sexual harassment were thrust into the limelight as women across the country – and even the world – joined the #MeToo movement. It was at this time that researchers found up to 81 percent of women had been victims of some type of sexual harassment, at some point in their lives.
However, women aren’t the only victims of this heinous act. In fact, one out of five men has complained of workplace sexual harassment in the past.
What’s even more shocking is that these statistics only represent the individuals who have come forward and let others know about the situation.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed by all employers. Unfortunately, there are some cases that are never reported simply because people don’t know that what they have experienced is classified as this.
If you are unsure what is considered sexual harassment, or just want to know what you can do if you see this happening in the workplace, keep reading. Here you can find the information and guidance you need.
Sexual Harassment Explained
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is any type of sex discrimination. This law applies to all employers in the U.S. that have 15 or more employees, with some state laws offering even more protection.
The request for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, and other physical or verbal harassment of sexual nature in the workplace is considered sexual harassment.
Keep in mind, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be directed at a specific person. Negative comments about women as a group may be considered sexual harassment.
Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
It doesn’t matter who is behind the offense. It could be a co-worker, manager, or a non-employee, such as a vendor, contractor, or client. If the individual’s conduct creates a hostile work environment, or if it interrupts a person’s success, it is unlawful sexual harassment.
Some specific examples of sexual harassment that may be encountered at the workplace include:
- Making offensive comments about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation
- Sharing any type of sexually inappropriate video or image
- Asking sexual questions
- Sending suggestive emails, notes, or letters
- Inappropriate rubbing, patting pinching, or any other touching
- Displaying sexual posters or images in the workplace
- Whistling or staring in an offensive manner
- Making sexual gestures
- Telling a lewd joke
- Physical acts of sexual assault
- A request for a sexual favor
- Performing sexual acts on oneself or exposing oneself
- Pressuring someone to engage sexually
Those are just a few examples of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The bottom line is any words or actions with any type of sexual connotation that interfere with a person’s ability to work, or that create an uncomfortable atmosphere are thought of as sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment vs. Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Misconduct
Sexual harassment is somewhat of a broad term. It includes all types of unwelcome physical or verbal sexual attention.
Sexual assault refers to sexual behavior or contact, often physical, which takes place without prior consent from the victim.
While sexual harassment typically violates civil laws (i.e. you have the right to work without being harassed) in many cases, it is not considered a criminal act. However, sexual assault typically refers to a criminal act.
Some of the most common types of sexual assault include:
- Unwanted sexual touching or fondling
- Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as penetration or oral sex of the perpetrator’s body
- Attempted rape
- Penetration of a victim’s body
Sexual misconduct is the non-legal term used for informally describing a wide array of behaviors, which could involve harassment. For example, there are some businesses that prohibit sexual relationships between coworkers, employees and their superiors, etc. even when the relationship is consensual.
What to Do if You Witness Sexual Harassment
Have you ever heard the term “bystander intervention?” It is a phrase used to describe providing help if you see someone else who is at risk for sexual assault.
Bystander intervention is also beneficial if you actually witness sexual harassment. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be a hero to help have a positive impact on someone else’s life. If you do opt to step in, you may be able to give the individual the opportunity to go somewhere save or get away from the situation.
Below are some of the steps you can take if you see someone being sexually harassed:
Create a Distraction
Do what you can to help interrupt the harassment, or even distract those who are taking part in the harassment. However, if someone appears violent, this is not a good idea.
Speak with the person being harassed. If they are being harassed offer to walk with them any time they may meet the harasser.
Call the Authorities
The absolute safest way to intervene is by finding an authority figure. In most cases, a manager, a security guard, or someone in an authority position can provide help and intervein.
Seek Legal Assistance
Remember, if you are a victim of sexual harassment, or if you witness sexual harassment, you have options. It’s a good idea to seek help from a legal representative, such as the services offered by Joseph Avrahamy.
Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Unfortunately, even with all of the attention it has received, sexual harassment in the workplace is never going to completely disappear. However, when you know how to identify it and know your rights, you can take action and protect yourself and others from becoming a victim.
If you found the information here helpful, be sure to check out some of our other blogs, such as how to prepare for business travel.