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Fighting Back Against Sexual Harassment

With the current "me too" movement it seems that many people are coming forward, sharing their experiences about sexual harassment, and holding their harassers accountable. One of the most common places where this behavior occurs is the workplace. 

Legal Protections Against Sexual Harassment

Gender discrimination, as defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main umbrella that encompasses cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. While the law has brought a decrease in sexual harassment claims, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission still reported almost 12,000 charges of on the job harassment in 2010.

Why Standing Up to Sexual Harassment is Important

Sexual harassment in the workplace exists in many forms, and can be highly detrimental to the victim's ability to perform the functions of their job at their best, or move forward in their career. Some examples of inappropriate behavior include:

  • Using offensive or sexually charged language
  • Unwanted sexual approaches
  • Physical or verbal behavior of a sexual natural, such as gestures or slurs
  • Direct or indirect implication that acceptance of sexually charges behavior will lead to workplace opportunities
  • Suggesting that standing up against harassment may cause lack of advancement opportunity or even loss of employment.

Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment and Potential Consequences

Workplace sexual harassment is either categorized as:

  • "Quid Pro Quo" - meaning an authority figure is requesting the acceptance of sexual behavior in order to advance their position to prevent negative consequences, such as job loss or demotion.
  • Hostile Work Environment- where an employer or manager/supervisor fails to correct a situation where an uncomfortable sexually inappropriate atmosphere is present in the workplace.

While sexual harassment is a violation of civil liberties, it falls short of being criminal. If harassment crosses the line, and begins to involve coercion, force or involves unwanted advances toward a person who is incapacitated, it should be reported to the police as a sexual assault.

Although sexual harassment has long been a violation of civil liberties, many attempts to just deal with inappropriate behavior in the workplace to avoid controversy. But speaking up may not only make things better for you, but your coworkers as well. In some cases when a coworker has exhibited offensive behavior, they might not even be aware of what they have done. Once they are aware, and refuse to change their behavior it is time to work within your company's policy to make a sexual harassment claim, and report the offensive behavior to the supervisor of whoever is committing the offense.

Because some look at sexual harassment cases as one person's word against another's, it is important to do your best to collect concrete evidence of the offending behavior, including dates and times. Also, it is important to note, that you don't have to be the victim to stand up against sexual harassment in the workplace.

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