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Sexual harassment continues to be a problem in the workplace

The problem of workplace sexual harassment seems entrenched and almost intractable.

Although sensitivity training workshops are all the rage, and companies spend time and money to develop policies and hire consultants to deal with the issue, harassment is proving difficult to eradicate. According to the Huffington Post, while a significant number of Americans continue to be the victims of sexual harassment, the majority of victims never report it. A HuffPost/YouGov survey revealed that around 70 percent of victims do not report harassment. The reluctance to report sexual harassment is often because of fear of retaliation which could cost the victim his or her job.

Another reason sexual harassment victims fail to report harassment incidents is the fear that co-workers will shame them by the experience. Health Canal reports that a study reveals that those subjected to workplace sexual harassment are often "doubly victimized" by the reactions of judgmental co-workers. Co-workers may feel that the victim did not do enough to stop the harassment or that they somehow "asked for it." The parallel to rape victims is unavoidable.

In the past few months, several sexual harassment lawsuits were filed against high-profile companies. According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, suits filed against Goldman Sachs, Tinder and Yahoo left some wondering if there was a new sexual harassment epidemic in America. One analyst concluded that we probably do not have an epidemic. Lawsuits against financial firms and tech companies merely reflect the fact that businesswomen are finally starting to speak out more aggressively against harassment.

One person interviewed by the Milwaukee Business Journal commented that it should not be surprising that sexual harassment lawsuits are being brought against prominent tech companies and financial institutions. These companies are typically male-dominated bastions where it has been tough for women to succeed. In such companies, sexual harassment is often about power in the sense of a supervisor or manager attempting to exert dominant control over a subordinate.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development observes that sexual harassment in the workplace is a type of sex/gender discrimination that includes: (1) requests for sexual favors; (2) unwelcome sexual advances; and (3) any other physical or verbal harassment of a sexual nature that leads to an intimidating, hostile or offensive workplace. Actions that create a hostile workplace environment can be verbal, nonverbal or physical. Examples of verbal actions that can create a hostile environment include sexual jokes and sexually demeaning comments. Nonverbal actions can consist of acts such as making lewd gestures or displaying sexually suggestive materials. A physical behavior could be touching, kissing or patting.

Dealing with harassment

It is important to deal with sexual harassment as soon as it manifests itself. An article published on the website offers the following tips for dealing with workplace sexual harassment:

  • Do not tolerate sexual harassment. Tell your harasser that the objectionable conduct must cease immediately.
  • If harassed by a co-worker, promptly tell your supervisor.
  • Get support from co-workers if possible. If sexual harassment is prevalent in a workplace, more than one victim is normally involved and it might be possible to take collective action.
  • Keep a record of sexual harassment incidents by noting them in a journal, diary or notebook.

Seeking legal advice

Do not be a silent victim of sexual harassment. If you are experiencing sexual harassment on the job, you should contact an attorney with experience handling employment law cases. An attorney can discuss the matter with you and help you to understand your rights and potential legal remedies.

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