Sexual harassment continues to be front page news. And, so it should be. If there’s one good thing to come out of the Harvey Weinstein revelations it’s that it has forced the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, out into the open.
This is a very good time to talk about being professional at work from all angles. The question of whether how you act or what you wear can spark inappropriate behaviour is something that women (and some men) shouldn’t have to address, but unfortunately must. I strongly believe that an individual should be able to wear what they like — provided that it is appropriate to the occasion — without fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment can be defined as: “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.”
One of the actresses taking centre stage of this movement said, “I may like to dress sexy but that does not mean I want sex with you.” It’s telling to point out that sexual harassment was not recognised by the UK courts until 1977 so there was seemingly no point in reporting it before then. If you did you would be sacked and struggle to find alternative employment.
“Victims are often also fearful that the perpetrator of the harassment may retaliate if the sexual harassment is reported.”
It’s because of the fear of losing one’s employment that Victoria Myers, Partner and Head of Sexual Abuse Claims at Graham Coffey and Co. Solicitors, believes victims find it so difficult to report such behaviour. She explains, “Often people are worried about their job security, worried that they will be seen as a trouble maker, worry that they will not be taken seriously or that they may even be dismissed from their position if a report is filed. Victims are often also fearful that the perpetrator of the harassment may retaliate if the sexual harassment is reported. This fear prevents many workers coming forward.”
Since the Harvey Western scandal broke Myers has seen an increase in enquiries from potential clients looking for advice about sexual harassment in the workplace. Encouragingly the solidarity amongst victims, although strangers, has encouraged more people to speak out. The old saying ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ has never been so relevant. The only way to drive sexual harassment out of the workplace is to speak out about it. By speaking out you could prevent the next individual becoming a victim of sexual harassment and take back the power.
Sexual harassment is less to do with lust and is more about power. Myers explains, “Sexual harassment can be about power and intimidation. An individual may find themselves in a situation where the perpetrator is the boss. The boss pays your wages, makes the rules and holds the keys to your future and promotion within an organisation. Therefore, this can make reporting the situation extremely difficulty. However, I would encourage victims not to be deterred by such a situation. I have witnessed first-hand the devastating effect that failing to speak out has had on some of my clients.”
How to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace
If you believe that you are the victim of sexual harassment, Graham Coffey and Co. Solicitors’ Victoria Myers recommends that you follow the following steps:
Keep a diary
Collect evidence of the harassment- keep a clear diary recording all the dates and times you have been sexually harassed. If you have been harassed by texts or email ensure that you save a copy.
Speak to HR
Always speak with your employer- this is so important. Request a copy of the company sexual harassment policy, every organisation should have a clear and concise policy on sexual harassment
File a formal complaint
Report the allegations in writing — ensure that you give an accurate and clear account (dates and times) of what has happened to you. Keep a copy of your complaint email or letter.
Report the crime
Tell the police if you think you have been the victim of a crime. Especially if you have been physically assaulted.
It’s sad that we’re still having to deal with such archaic behaviour in 2018. But, with bravery, solidarity and confidence let’s all join the fight to kick sexual harassment out of the workplace.