Sexual Harassment, in the eyes of the law is clearly unacceptable behavior, but how do you define sexual harassment? What’s the difference between sexual harassment and a bit of harmful banter, when have things gone too far? Let’s make one thing clear from the very start, (because the law does), that it is unlawful for men or women to be treated unfairly or differently because of their sex, and it is unlawful to sexually harass anyone in the work place.
What is Sexual Harassment
Okay then, what exactly is sexual harassment? Sexual harassment has nothing to do with friendship or a bit of fun, it’s all about power. It’s really any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature and it’s not only bosses who are guilty of this, there are also a lot of “playground tactics” from work colleagues trying to get one up on each other. You do have to be a bit careful though, because different people do react to different situations in many different ways. What one person may take as an innocent remark or a bit of fun, to another can be deemed as being offensive and degrading. The law definitely comes down on the side of the victim, not the perpetrator, so there really is no reason to suffer – although it can be a long and difficult path to take in many cases.
Sexual harassment is generally aimed at women, although some cases of sexual harassment have been against men too. They reckon that around half of women either are, will be or have been subjected to some sort of sexual harassment during their working lives. It’s not only a case of the “office lech” either, when you work in a large male dominated office environment, it can happen to people of all ages, in all working conditions, in many different parts of the community.
Sexual harassment can be broadly divided into three categories:
Verbal Sexual Harassment:
- unwelcome comments about clothes, body or appearance
- downright indecent remarks
- comments or questions about one’s sex life
- requesting sexual favors
- sexual demands by people of the opposite (or even same) sex
- employment condition promises or threats, in return for any sexual favors
Non-Verbal Sexual Harassment:
- displaying sexually explicit materials – magazines, calendars or pin-ups for example
- staring at a persons body (or a specific part of it!)
Physical Sexual Harassment:
- Sexual assault
- Physically touching, hugging, kissing, caressing, pinching etc
Dealing with Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment doesn’t generally happen immediately, but often tends to gather momentum over a period of time. After all, what they see as a bit of harmless fun might be something completely different in your eyes. So what’s the best way to deal with it?
- Confront the harasser speaking slowly and clearly, make eye contact and maintain it
- Tell them how you see their behavior, how it makes you feel and that you want it to stop
- Don’t allow them to try to triviliase what happens or dismiss your feelings
- Do not apologise, do not smile. I know it can happen when you’re nervous, but it will only undermine the seriousness of what you’re saying
- Don’t go on and on. Say your piece and then leave – less is very often more in these cases
If you find the idea of confronting them face to face too stressful, simply write them a letter explaining about their behavior and how it makes you feel. Keep a copy of it and say, in no uncertain terms that if it continues you will take further action.
Keeping a sexual harassment diary is always a good idea, keeping a tab of times and places where the behavior took place and whether anyone else was present at the time. If, after all of this the behavior continues then it is time to take the matter further. Speak to your employer, take someone with you if possible for a bit of moral support, or alternatively to back up your claims. Once again, keep a written note of what happened and what you’ve tried to do about it. If all else fails it may be necessary to take matters further in the sexual harassment courts.