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Sexual Harassment: What to do if You're a Victim

In 2019, it was big news, and in 2020 the figures continue to rise: workplace sexual harassment is a growing problem that even remote work hasn’t ended. Whether it’s in-person or via webcam, many employees feel trapped in uncomfortable or even abusive situations in which they feel powerless.

In theory, company policies, and the law, are on the victims’ side, but in practice, addressing sexual harassment can be extremely difficult. Leaving the toxic environment may not seem to be a solution for many. In today’s economy, fears of being unable to find another job are real.

What should you do if you’re a victim? Unfortunately the answers aren’t easy. Harassers are usually careful to ensure that there are no witnesses, leaving you in a “your word against the harasser’s” situation. However, sexual harassment cases have been addressed successfully in the past. If you’re facing this problem, you need to follow the right procedure.

Know When What’s Happening is Crime

The first thing to remember that there’s a difference between harassment and sexual assault. The latter is a criminal case and not just a civil one. You need legal help and advice as soon as possible.

Legal definitions may differ from state to state, but it’s safe to say that sexual fondling and sex acts performed without your consent are criminal offenses. Do not delay getting help. Doing so may be construed as consent, even when physical or verbal intimidation formed part of the incident.

If you have been raped, contact a rape crisis center or call 911 immediately. They will advise you as to the necessary steps to take. Do not bath or shower. You will need a medical exam to gather evidence that will put your rapist behind bars.

If you have been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 0800-656-4673 immediately. As soon as possible, contact a legal firm like Lamber Goodnow that specializes in sexual assault cases. Assembling a strong team to help you fight your case is vital to its success.

Harassment: Record Every Detail - Even if There are no Witnesses

Unlike sexual assault, harassment can occur without you ever being touched. It’s unwelcome, unwanted, and despite the lack of sexual contact, it can be traumatic.

Because charges of sexual harassment are so serious, accumulating as much proof as you are able will improve your chances of being believed. You should record every incident, even if there was nobody present to witness it. And although you may not have been sexually assaulted, harassment could be the precursor to an assault, so consider getting legal counselling even if you’re “only” experiencing a hostile environment or hints of a quid pro quo situation.

This could include offers based on your providing sexual favors, or threats if you won’t as well as any unusual treatment such as gender-based or sexual comments. Record the dates, times, and the names of anyone who may have witnessed what was happening. If there are none, remember that your harrasser’s behavior may not be limited to you alone. Include incidents involving colleagues in your record-keeping.

If any clues to the harassment are apparent in email, mobile, or social media messages, save them and print out hard copies for safekeeping.

Report Harassment at Work Before Attempting to Litigate

Many women fail to report harassment at work using internal channels, but even if you’re planning to sue, and don’t have much faith in the organization you work for, this is the first essential step in your quest for justice. Report in writing, even if you already did so verbally, and keep a copy for yourself.

Unfortunately, employment law does not require your employer to dismiss the offender, or even to provide information on steps taken against them. However, it is their duty to ensure that the harassment ends. If it does not, or the harasser tries to take revenge, report the matter again.

Report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

If there is no sign of your employer having taken action to halt harassment, it’s time to report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This gives you some protection against unfair dismissal or retaliation, and places you in a position to take legal action if you find your career being jeopardized by the fact that you came forward with your complaint. If you haven’t consulted a legal professional yet, now is the time to do so.

If your employer has not provided adequate support, you will be eager to escape an extremely unpleasant work situation. If you haven’t done so already, begin looking for alternative employment.

Whatever happens, never regret having plucked up the courage to report harassment. It is your right to work in a safe environment that’s free of sexual harassment, and even if you leave, your report can help to protect your successors.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes

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