What Were They Thinking? Men, Women and Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment happens to all combination of genders.
Posted February 26, 2018
For over thirty years I have served as an expert witness, author and conducted training for the prevention of sexual harassment. One of the first things I learned is we are not all operating from the same rule book. With the recent #metoo and #Timesup movement, our heads are spinning with the number of men being accused across all professions and industries. This movement has brought forward a long, dark history of the American workplace. I believe some clarification of sexual harassment will aid in moving forward and eradicating this treacherous act which impacts the bottom line and women’s mental health.
Sexual harassment happens to all combination of genders: The majority of sexual harassment (approximately 90%) is reported by women against men. However, we know that men can harass men, women can harass men and women can harass women. It crosses all gender lines. I believe harassment endured by men is under reported because of what I call the “macho factor.” Men have shared that they have been scolded and teased about not being able to handle a woman trying to pick up on them. Some men are told, when harassed by a woman “go for it! You should be flattered!” or “what’s wrong with you?” Both genders can be victims of harassment.
Go along to get along: People will often remark that “she laughed at the sex joke so we assumed she was good with it.” Women and men will often follow the cultural norm of their work environment to fit in and keep their job. No one wants to be an outsider among their own team. Often recipients of sexual harassment are very embarrassed and don’t want to talk about it to anyone. They fear that, if they talk about it, nothing will be done, or the complaint won’t be taken seriously. They fear reprisal from the harasser, especially if that person is their boss or representative of the management. They are afraid of being told they “asked for it.” They are afraid of being fired, demoted, not promoted, or transferred. They blame themselves. They are told by someone they should be flattered. They’re afraid of being blamed.
What’s the difference between sexual attraction and sexual harassment? Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior. Remember “no” is a complete sentence.
It is a power play and on a continuum of intimidation. Sexual attraction is consensual behavior and characterized by equal initiation and participation.
How do I stop sexual harassment? If you are receiving unwanted sexual attention, tell the person that such behavior is unwelcome. If that person does not take you seriously, the following methods are suggested for stopping the behavior:
Say it again. Like a broken record, you may have to repeat your objections until the unwelcome behavior stops. Restate your objections. “I understand what you are saying but I don’t want you to…” Repeat that statement until the person stops the behavior and takes your request seriously. And you don’t have to explain or justify why you don’t want the person to stop.
Talk to your supervisor. (If it is you supervisor doing the sexual harassment, talk with his or her supervisor)
Write a letter or email. Write a letter or email to the sexual harasser and include the following:
A description of the unwanted behavior
The time the behavior occurred
The fact that you want it to stop
A warning that if it does not stop, you will take further action
Signature and date
Make a copy of the letter and give it to the harasser in front of a witness.
Contact your organization’s HR or personnel department. They can assist you informally or formally stopping the unwanted sexual attention.