Sexual Harassment Definition – How to Deal with Sexual Harassment at Work?

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sexual harassment at work

Trigger Warning for Article: This article about sexual harassment contains statistics, information and conversation about sexual violence. This can be not comforting for some readers. Viewer discretion is advised. 

Sexual harassment is the plague of our society. One in five women in the United States has experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. About a quarter of men in the U.S. have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives. Nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some kind of sexual harassment assault in their lifetime. It is estimated that 734,630 people were raped (including threatened, attempted, or completed rape) in the U.S. in 2018. These are the reports by the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, and the statistics are growing every single day.

Human Relation and Interaction

Humans are the most constructive and also the most destructive species on Earth. While human relations and interactions can be nourishing and enriching, sometimes they can be plain disgusting and traumatizing. When it comes to sexual harassment, men, women, children, marginalized communities, everyone is vulnerable. Every day we find a news article highlighting the details of the most gruesome sexual harassment or sexual violence. But, we as a society have been desensitized to it. It has become just a number for us. 

And this needs to stop. We ought to take the time and effort to create safe spaces in our society where no young or older adults feel threatened. And this begins by recognizing sexual harassment in all its forms – be it at school, workplaces, or even in our own homes.

Sexual Harassment Definition

According to the UNDP, “Sexual harassment occurs between personnel in the workplace and is defined as “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favor, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behavior of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offense or humiliation to another person.” 

What is Sexual Harassment? 

Harassment may involve verbal, emotional, or physical abuse and may demean, belittle, intimidate, humiliate, offend, or damage the victim. Leaving aside the jargonized definition, sexual harassment is something we all observe every day and something that we inherently know is wrong. It is the flirtatious comment passed in the workplace, or the unwanted touch in public transport, or the sexualizing of young children, the list goes on. The truth is, sexual harassment is present all around us, and we need to open our eyes and see it.

What are the Two Types of Sexual Harassment

Although sexual harassment is of many types and can happen in almost any space. But in this article focuses on the two types of sexual harassment:

  • sexual harassment in the workplace, and
  • sexual harassment in schools.

1. Sexual Harassment in Schools

how to deal with sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in schools is more common than we think. According to the NSVRC reports, One in three female victims of completed or attempted rape experienced it for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17. About one in four male victims of completed or attempted rape first experienced it between the age group of 11 to 17. This is the exact age when kids are in middle school to high school. 

How Does It Affect?

Sexual violence in schools permeates every aspect of children’s lives and scars them forever. It hampers their ability to study, make friends, develop essential skills, and experience their childhood, but most importantly, it negatively impacts their whole life. Sexual harassment in schools can come in the form of name-calling, touching, flirting, abuse, assault, or rape. 

Here, Guidance Required!

Sexual harassment in schools can happen among peers, or sadly, even among authority figures and students. The most important role we as caregivers can play is to teach our children about their bodies, about safe and unsafe touch, and have a relationship where they can come to us and let us know even if they are experiencing the slightest amount of discomfort so that it does not blow up to something bigger. 

2. Sexual Harassment in Workplaces

Sexual harassment at work

Sexual harassment in workplaces is one of the most dangerous factors for vulnerable people. According to the EEOC:

The EEOC has defined sexual harassment in its guidelines as: 

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

The keyword here is ‘unwelcome.’ Any kind of unwelcome behavior, especially sexual, can be termed harassment.

So, How can I know if I am being Sexually Harassed?

Sexual harassment can look different in different contexts. The most important sign to look out for is how you feel about any action. Trusting your instincts is important to decipher what feels like harassment to you. In a world that teaches us to doubt ourselves, trusting our instincts and hearing what our inner voice tells us is the first line of defense to recognize sexual harassment. 

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

Apart from that, sexual harassment includes but is not limited to :

  • Actual or attempted assault of any kind
  • Pressure for sexual favours
  • Lude vocabulary
  • Unwanted and unwarranted communication that feels threatening
  • Verbal sexualization
  • Casual or serious sexism
  • Crossing personal boundaries
  • Inappropriate touch of any kind
  • Making sexual gestures etc.

How to Deal with Sexual Harassment at the Work?

Firstly, recognize that sexual harassment is not your fault. Once you have calmed yourself down a little, you can choose to do the following :

1. Go to your Safety Network

Go to your safe circle

This may be peers, co-workers, authority figures, friends, or family. Confide in someone who you can trust and let go of the burden, at least a little.

2. Address the issue

Address the issue

Try communicating with your perpetrator that their behavior is discomforting. This step may need contextual discretion but is something that you can do in mild cases if you think it is okay to do so.

3. Go the Legal Way

Go to legal authorities

Find out about the sexual harassment laws in your country or state. Laws regarding such issues vary from place to place. So, be aware of helplines and provisions to report sexual violence and assert your rights by doing so.

In the end, do what feels right to you. Sexual violence is not the victim’s fault, and navigating through it, is something that you should choose, if God forbid, you were to have any such experience.

How Can We Prevent Sexual Harassment at the Workplace?

While we teach people to deal with sexual harassment, it is important to know that it is a traumatizing experience that can scar someone for life. The onus and responsibility of sexual harassment should not be on the victim but on the perpetrator. Therefore, in order to develop such an attitude, the change begins with each one of us. Here are a few things you can do to help.

1. Educate Yourself

Educate yourself - how to deal with harassment at work

Sexual violence has been rooted in our history for as long as we know. It is the most savage and gruesome kind of violence one can experience. Therefore, we must educate ourselves about sexual violence. Be aware of laws and policies to prevent sexual harassment in society.

2. Promote Sex Education

Sex education

Sex is still a taboo topic in our world. However, we need sex education for our children, now more than ever. It is crucial that our future generations know about their bodies and others’ bodies and has the ability to respect them and make empowered decisions. Our responsibility is to teach our kids about sex and give them the correct information so that they do not seek it from sources that propagate violent sexual activities.

3. Practice Consent, every step of the Way

Take permission - how to deal with harassment at work

Consent is not just sexual. Practice consent in every aspect of your life so that it becomes part of your system. Ask for consent before sharing your colleague’s phone number with someone, or ask for consent before sharing personal details of someone’s life with another person. Taking permission for seemingly ordinary activities helps us become aware of how we violate people’s boundaries. Therefore, practicing consent in every aspect is crucial.

4. Check yourself and your Circle

Check your circle

We are still living in a patriarchal society. And contrary to the notion that patriarchy harms only females, patriarchy is known to harm people across the gender spectrum. So take the time and check your biases and prejudices, not just in terms of gender, but also race, class, color, and more. Call out your friends when they crack a sexist joke or support your friends when they open up about their harassment. Without community, victims can never find the justice they deserve.

5. Be a Part of Spreading Awareness

Awareness - how to deal harassment at work

Sexual harassment is a serious issue, and we need to stop brushing it under the carpet. It is time that we all check and question ourselves and play our role in building a society that has safe spaces for all of us. And when you become aware of what is sexual harassment and how does it is hurting our society, do your best to inspire and make aware girls and women around you to stand for themselves instead of being victims of this evil.

Sexual Harassment is everyone’s responsibility. It is a grave evil in society, and it is now more than ever that we need to step up, take accountability, and put an end to this nightmare of humankind.

Also Read: Some go as far as sexual harassment in public, here’s how to respond to these harassers without putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

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