Saturday, January 06, 2007

Deal with Sexual Harassment

(Had put this note together when at Breakthrough)
(And I'm still around and well, but getting over this blog, a bit)

Whether at the workplace, school, street or university, sexual harassment can cause the environment to become hostile, intimidating or offensive. Learn how to deal with it!

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is primarily an issue of power, not sex. It occurs when a person with power abuses that power and brings unwanted attention of a sexual nature into what should be a sex neutral situation.

Abuses of power in the form of sexual harassment can come from people in authority positions in formal settings, for example:

* Supervisors
* Employers
* Professors

Or, it can come from colleagues, peers, and even people who see you as a source of authority.

Harassment also occurs in an informal setting. Informal harassment is often a play on existing power structures such as gender. Gender is a source of inequality and subordination, particularly for women. Men’s whistles, remarks, and stares are an assertion of power and can feel threatening or embarrassing.

Sexual harassment differs from consensual flirting or voluntary sexual relationships because it usually is unwanted, occurs in a power relationship in which the parties are not equal, and/or contains elements of coercion and threat.

Harassment can be men against women, women against men, women against women, or men against men. It may be a repeated unwelcome behavior or an action that only occurs once. All are equally unacceptable forms of behavior.

In short, sexual harassment is coerced, unethical and unwanted, and amounts to violence.

Types of sexual harassment


Things such as unwanted touching, fondling, patting, hugging, pinching or kissing.


Questions and comments about a person's sexual behavior, sexually oriented jokes, comments about a person's body, conversations filled with sexual innuendo and double meanings.


Displaying sexually suggestive pictures or objects, ogling in a sexually demeaning manner, gesturing and making lewd motions with one's body.

What to do if you are being sexually harassed
(Adapted from Sexual Harassment: Things You Should Know)

1. Do the unexpected. Name the behavior. Whatever he's just done, say it, and be specific. For example: Why did you brush up against by breast?
2. Hold the harasser accountable for his actions. Don't make excuses for him; don't pretend it didn't really happen. Take charge of the encounter and let people know what he did. Privacy protects harassers, but visibility undermines them.
3. Make honest, direct statements. Speak the truth (no threats, no insults, no obscenities, no appeasing verbal fluff and padding). Be serious, straightforward, and blunt.
4. Demand the harassment stop.
5. Make it clear that all women have the right to be free from sexual harassment. Objecting to harassment is a matter of principle.
6. Stick to your own agenda. Don't respond to the harasser's excuses or diversionary tactics.
7. His behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists.
8. Reinforce your statements with strong, self-respecting body language: eye contact, head up, shoulders back, a strong, serious stance. Don't smile. Timid, submissive body language will undermine your message.
9. Respond at the appropriate level. Use a combined verbal and physical response to physical harassment.
10. End the interaction on your own terms, with a strong closing statement, "You heard me. Stop harassing women."

When harassment occurs within an organizational setup, such as a school or company, there may be an existing sexual harassment policy and a process for handling complaints. Here documentation is the keyword. You should:

1. Photograph or keep copies of any offensive material.
2. Keep a journal with detailed information on instances of sexual harassment. Note the dates, conversations, frequency of offensive encounters, etc.
3. Tell other people, including personal friends and co-workers if possible.

You may also be able to access outside legal remedies. Get in touch with a lawyer to seek detailed advice.

What to do if you have been sexually harassed

* Don’t be silent. Talk to people about your experience. Help create a social climate where sexual harassment is not tolerated.
* Educate yourself and others. Discuss what can be done if you are being sexually harassed. Discuss how myths, such as women who dress provocatively are asking to be harassed, are dangerous and perpetuate violence.
* Offer support to others when sexual harassment occurs.
* Remember: harassment is shameful for the harasser, and not for you.