Sexual Harassment - What Every Woman Needs to Know

Last week Hollywood was rocked by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault and rape.

However, what’s nearly as shocking is that this scandal took so long to be revealed.

I commend all the women who have spoken up about this issue, breaking through the wall of silence and secrecy that has enabled this predatory behaviour over the years.

High-profile cases of sexual harassment against women have been firmly in the headlines for the past 12 months following the release of a recording of the now US President Donald Trump, stating that as a famous man “you can do anything” [to women].

Earlier in 2017, half a dozen women working in the tech industry also made claims about facing unwanted and inappropriate advances from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. A recent survey also showed that 80% of women of women in the workplace have been subject to sexual harassment – down from 90% in 1976 (!)

Sadly, there are Harvey Weinsteins in every sector, so it’s imperative that we women are prepared and able to speak up so that these people can be held to justice.

Wording: Rachel Forcella; 

If you’re reading this and wondering what you can do – or if you have been a victim of, or are currently experiencing sexual harassment, here are some guidelines to help you.

  • It is everyone’s responsibility to promote a zero tolerance to sexism in the workplace. Additionally, employers need to protect their employees from harassment, not just from other employees but also from customers, suppliers and any other person(s) they may come into contact with as part of their job.
  • Understand that seemingly “harmless” behaviour such as having a “girly” calendar in the breakroom or making jokes with sexual references can contribute to an environment where employees may feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
  • Know that if it makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s not appropriate. Be that a wolf whistle, a comment on your appearance, inappropriate language, or unwanted physical touching (note: this is not a comprehensive list).

What to do if you have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace 

Sexual harassment is the unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:

- violates your dignity;

- makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated;

- creates a hostile or offensive environment.

Source: Citizens Advice

While it’s usually men who carry out sexual harassment against women, this is not always the case. If another woman acts towards you in the ways described above, this is still sexual harassment.

Actions to take:

  1. Tell the person to stop. Make it clear what they have done to make you uncomfortable – be specific. Try to stay as calm as possible, be factual and avoid using insults or obscenities. If necessary, you may prefer to do this with a friend, union rep or another colleague present.
  2. Don’t pretend to yourself, or anyone else, that it didn’t happen.
  3. Make a record of the event(s). Documenting instances of harassment (what happened, time, date, place etc.), as well as keeping evidence such as photographs, e-mails (it can be a good idea to keep a hard copy of these) and texts will assist you in making a formal complaint about the harassment.
  4. Before making a complaint, it’s also a good idea to make hard copies of your work performance records including appraisal and evaluation reports.
  5. Find out your workplace’s policy on sexual harassment and the correct procedure for making a complaint.
  6. Make your formal complaint following your workplace’s procedure. This will give your employer an opportunity to deal with the problem. If the harassment continues, you will also have evidence that your employer knows about the issue.
  7. Ensure that you record details of all of the conversations and communications that you have with your manager/HR regarding the incident. This will help you if your case is taken to an employment tribunal or court.
  8. Don’t resign from your job. If you leave your employer may be able to argue that you didn’t allow them to deal with the harassment.
  9. If you feel as if your workplace is not taking the complaint seriously, seek external help. For more details, see more here.
  10. If necessary, seek counselling to help you move on and deal with any issues that the situation has created for you. Contact your HR department or GP.

If you have been the victim of a serious sexual assault, contact the police – you have the right to report a crime.

If there’s anyone you know who you feel would benefit from this guide, please share it with them.

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