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Women Can Use to Combat Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Contributed
Joe Hodowanes, Career Strategy Advisor
MYTH: Sexual harassment is rare.
FACT: Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches
the lives of 40 to 60 percent of working women, and similar proportions
of female students in colleges and universities.
MYTH: The seriousness of sexual harassment has been exaggerated.
Most so-called harassment is really trivial and harmless flirtation.
FACT: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate
that most harassment has nothing to do with flirtation, or sincere
sexual or social interest. Rather, it is offensive, often frightening
and insulting to women. Research has shown that many women are often
forced to leave school or a job to avoid further harassment, and can
experience serious psychological and health-related problems.
MYTH: Many women make up and report stories of sexual harassment
to get back at their employers or others who have angered them.
FACT: Research shows that less than one percent of complaints
are false. Women rarely file false complaints and often do not file
even when justified.
MYTH: Women generally provoke sexual harassment by the way
they look, dress and behave.
FACT: Harassment does not occur because women dress provocatively
or initiate sexual activity in the hope of getting promoted and advancing
their careers. Studies have found that victims of sexual harassment
vary in physical appearance, dress type, age and behavior. The only
thing they have in common is that the overwhelming majority are women.
MYTH: If you ignore harassment, it will go away.
FACT: It will not. Research has shown that simply ignoring
the behavior is ineffective harassers generally will not stop
on their own. Ignoring such behavior may even be seen as agreement
Understanding Sexual Harassment
So what constitutes sexual harassment? According to the United States
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
"Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendment.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other
verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual
There are two kinds of sexual harassment:
Quid pro quo
Quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone with supervisory
authority makes an economic benefit or a term, condition or privilege
of employment possibly even the job itself contingent
upon a subordinate's submission to sexual advances. It can also
occur when a subordinate is punished for not submitting to sexual
advances. Quid pro quo harassment is the equivalent of economic
A hostile work environment exists when the work atmosphere
is so infused with sexually oriented, or otherwise hostile or
abusive conduct, that an employee's reasonable comfort level and/or
ability to perform are severely undermined. In contrast to quid
pro quo harassment, coworkers, and even customers, can cause a
hostile work environment.
What to Do If You Are Harassed
Overwhelming evidence suggests that the best way to eliminate
a sexual harassment problem is to confront the harasser. Immediately
let them know that their behavior:
Is offensive to you
Makes you sick to your stomach
Does whatever it is doing to you
Then ask them to stop immediately.
Friends, affirmative action officers, human resource professionals
and women's groups can offer information, advice and support,
but only you can decide what is right for you. The only
thing you can be absolutely certain of is that ignoring the situation
will not cause it to go away.
Above all, do not blame yourself. It is not your fault. Place
the blame where it belongs on the harasser. Self-blame
can cause depression and will not help you or the situation. Many
women have found the following strategies effective:
Say NO to the harasser! Be direct. Write a letter to them.
Describe the incident and how it made you feel. State that you would
like the harassment to stop. Send the letter by certified mail and
keep a copy.
Keep a record of what happened and when. Include dates,
times, places, names of persons involved, including any witnesses,
and who said what to whom.
Tell someone don't keep it to yourself. Keeping
quiet about the harassment won't stop it. Chances are extremely
good that you aren't your harasser's only victim. Speaking up can
be helpful in finding support and preventing others from becoming
Find out who is responsible for dealing with harassment at
your organization and whether you can talk with that person confidentially.
Almost all organizations have sexual harassment policies and procedures,
as well as individuals or counselors who administer them. Find out
the procedure at your workplace or school. It is your organization's
responsibility to advise, help and support you. Not only can your
company offer you support, but such meetings at the workplace can
provide an important record should legal action be advised.
If you are a union member, speak to your union representative.
Unions are generally very committed to eliminating sexual harassment
in the workplace.
Consult a psychologist or other mental health professional
who understands the problems caused by sexual harassment if you
are experiencing psychological distress related to harassment.