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Sexual harassment should never be ignored

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Helen Hoart

The good news: reported cases of sexual harassment are on the decline, down from 15,889 cases reported in 1997 to 11,364 in 2011.  The bad news: many cases probably still go unreported.

A decade ago, the polling company Louis Harris reported that nearly one-third of women in the work force had experienced sexual harassment.  But what’s even more disturbing, according to the poll, is that nearly two-thirds of the targets of harassment took no action.

It’s important to understand what sexual harassment is and what your rights are if you believe you’ve been sexually harassed. Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination and it violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  But sometimes it’s difficult to ferret out what constitutes sexual harassment and what doesn’t. 

While often sexual harassment involves a man harassing a woman that isn’t always the case. The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man.  Plus, the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Another common misconception is that harassment is always a supervisor harassing an employee but that’s not necessarily the case.  Harassment can occur from a co-worker, an agent of the employer, a non-employee or a supervisor in another section of a company. Say you’re a vendor to a company and one of the company’s reps constantly makes comments of sexual nature to you. That may be harassment even though you don’t work for the company.

It’s also important to understand that the victim of harassment doesn’t have to be the person harassed. It can be anyone who is affected by the offensive behavior. 

There doesn’t have to be an economic quid pro quid for harassing behavior like not getting a raise or being fired. Finally, the harasser’s behavior must be unwelcome.

So what do you do if you feel you’re being harassed?  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the government’s enforcer of the sexual discrimination laws, suggests the victim directly tell the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Further, the victim should inform the employer. In many instances that means getting in touch with the Human Resources Department or if necessary contacting the CEO.  If that’s not sufficient, then there are law firms that specialize in sexual discrimination such as

Whatever the situation, if you feel you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, speak up.  Staying silent will not help you and may hurt others if the harasser continues to think his or her behavior has no consequences.

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