A friend of mine was recently harassed by a person who works in the same store as her. They usually don't work together, but they occasionally see each other and joke around. Sometimes it's play-flirting, and it's with more than just this guy. Everyone was under the assumption that it was just fun, nothing serious (as she has a partner, who is also another friend of mine). I won't get into details since I was confided in and I think that's pretty rude, but the actions this man made were definitely uncalled for and violating of her trust, let alone her acquaintanceship.
What would you do in this situation?
Personally, if he had done this to me, I would have removed myself from the area and made it clear that he would never speak to me or come near me again. Maybe that's harsh, but it's better than getting hurt in the future. I would follow it up by talking to management about it, just to let them know that this was serious and they need to be aware that it could also happen to someone else.
So, what's harassment?
Harassment is an umbrella term of all different behaviors that are considered offensive in nature. It could be used to scare, upset, or disturb the victim and may also be repetitive. Sexual harassment is an unwanted sexual advance that usually happens in the workplace.
What happened to my friend was sexual harassment, even though I won't tell you what the man did. My boss at work has sexually harassed people before, too. See my other blog for details.
How do the victims feel?
In my friend's case, she felt that she was responsible and didn't want the man to get in trouble or fired because he "needed his job". This isn't uncommon, of course. Guilt is one of many responses to sexual harassment. Others include:
- Loss of confidence/self-esteem,
- Feeling powerless,
- Being objectified,
- Changing lifestyle,
- Serious amounts of stress,
- Feeling/being scrutinized and judged,
- Sometimes retaliation from the harasser.
How can I help?
A great place to begin is by talking with the person who has been harassed (if it's not you) or seeking help from a friend/therapist (if it is you).
If you're on the supporting end, whoever you are, consider some of the following material:
Don't minimize the person's experience. They're really going through some shit right now, the last thing they need is someone telling them that is wasn't that bad, it could have been worse. Listen to them, it was real and it was scary. Don't make excuses for the harasser, either. Some people who don't like conflict or hearing about conflict usually try to make excuses so that they don't have to listen. "Guys will be guys" some say, and that should make everything better, right? Bullshit! What they did was wrong, hands down. Personally, these aren't the friends you should turn to, but any port in a storm...
For those really supportive friends, you'll have the feeling of anger and want to find the person who did this and make them pay, right? Well, don't. I know the feeling. My sister was physically hurt by her partner once, and I was the biggest rage-monster I could think of. Violence never solved what other violence caused. The smart thing to do is stick by your friend and find them help. Don't be afraid to call them out on their crap, too! If you think they're making up excuses and putting themselves down, call them out. Tell them the truth, but be gentle. Pressure only makes it worse. If you think they're really in the dumps and absolutely need support, don't be afraid to take the step and get them the help they need.
Maybe you should also check in with yourself. Do you use offensive language when describing people? If so, try keeping that in check. Don't beat yourself up, but try curbing language that is considered offensive or triggering. It's not good for the victim and it only makes others feel dehumanized and encourages negative thoughts. Same goes for people you know, make sure they understand how harmful it can be.
As for you, keep in mind that you're only one person! Burn-out happens to us all when we're invested in a cause or have a lot going on. Step back, deal with yourself, take deep breaths, and make sure you're okay.
What can I do to prevent sexual harassment?
If you feel you or someone you know is being sexually harassed, here are some things you could do to work towards ending it.
- Clearly indicate that this behavior is not wanted and will not be tolerated; say "no"
- Inform the harasser of what they've done and that actions will be taken if it does not end.
- Keep documentation, even if it's a journal entry or a picture. Record any time that you have met with the harasser, what you've discussed, and especially if there have been negative conversations.
- Any and all meeting you've had with your employer about the harassments.
- Any retaliations made by your harasser.
In conclusion, please be careful. You're your own person, but the world isn't the friendliest of places. Be safe, know your surroundings and the people you work with. If you're suspicious, listen to what your gut tells you. Let someone know that you're nervous or worried. Fear drives people who commit acts such as rape, so informing someone means you're being that much more careful.
Special thanks to the following websites with help on some of the information here!
Also, here's another blog with a bit about sexual harassment in the workplace. I recommend it!
All images here were found through Google Images. I do not own the rights to any of the images on this blog.