Sexual Harassment at Work
Recent media coverage across many sectors has brought to the fore the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace. Hidden, unspoken and buried memories of abusive incidents may well be triggered by revelations that are making headlines across the world. We know that reports from the film industry and government departments are only the tip of the iceberg and that in the coming months we will be aware of serious disclosures from all industries. A 24/7 service, contactable by email or phone, can be an invaluable source of confidential support to employees wishing to discuss sensitive issues.
The Equalities Act (2010) defines sexual harassment as; “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’ s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.”
Experiencing this in the workplace can then, by definition, feel violating, unsignifying, hostile, degrading humiliating and offensive. There are no circumstances wherein sexual harassment of any nature is acceptable.
Many different behaviours are considered as sexual harassment including, suggestive or indecent language and remarks, unwanted physical contact, requests or demands for sexual acts and the sharing or displaying of pornographic material. Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behaviour or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment.
What can you do?
Share your experiences – Talk first to someone you can trust and speak to in confidence. This does not have to be someone in your organisation if the harassment has occurred at work. Speaking about sexual harassment is a good first step to exploring what your options are for action. Doing this in secret or isolation is much harder and support can be very useful during this time. Your EAP is a good, confidential place to start.
Understand who is at fault – If you are experiencing harassment of this kind, it is not your fault. It is often an aspect of sexual harassment that the victim is made to feel at blame for the actions of the perpetrator(s). This is often the reason for these behaviors going unreported. Taking action to highlight the harassment is an important step towards recovering.
Keep records – Whenever and wherever you come across sexual harassment it is useful to have a written record noted as close to the event as possible. A note written in your phone is often all this needs. Make a simple record of what happened, where, when and by whom. This way you can focus on looking after yourself in the aftermath rather than on trying to recall the events.
Only speak out when ready – Take care to consider your own wellbeing when reporting such incidents officially. Making sure you have the personal support in place before doing so can make your experience of the official reporting procedures more comfortable. If you feel it would help, consider asking a friend or trusted colleague to accompany you to any meeting and/or check written communications around this harassment.
Speaking to a professional trained in recognising the symptoms of stress and trauma is a useful action to take. Even if it is just a brief telephone call to your EAP you will have a chance to focus on yourself and the effects of the experience on you rather than the practical side of combating the sexual harassment.
Symptoms can arise weeks and months after the event so try to check in regularly to ensure that you are getting the correct support in order to recover.