Coping With Sexual Harassment

WebMD Blog:

Coping With Sexual Harassment

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The problem of sexual harassment is often minimized, ignored, and even made light of. But its impact is serious: being harassed can be emotionally overwhelming and confusing, and it can leave you feeling uncomfortable and doubting yourself.

To help you sort through your thoughts and feelings and to decide how to respond, consider the following:

Listen to your gut. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” But, as you probably know, people often disagree about which behaviors cross the line into harassment.

Sometimes the sexual harassment is unmistakable, such as unwelcomed touching or kissing; or being told you will be hired if you have sex with the boss. Other situations may be harder to assess, such as repeated compliments or sexual jokes.

Because it can be hard to pin down, it is important to listen to your gut. If you feel that you are being harassed, then it is probably happening. But even if there is just some kind of misunderstanding, something is wrong – and that something needs to be addressed.

Remember you are not alone. If you decide that you are being sexually harassed, then it can help to know that many others struggle with the same problem. The Barna Group found that about 29% of Americans report being sexually harassed. Also, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that almost half of workingwomen in the U.S. report being harassed in the workplace.

Reach out for support. Talk with someone who is emotionally supportive and whose judgment you trust. Hopefully that person can comfort you while helping you to gain clarity about your situation – such as labeling the offending actions and thinking about how those actions have affected you emotionally, personally, and professionally.

Take action. Decide what actions you can and want to take based on your assessment of your situation. To help you with this, you might want to talk with human resources, a manager, or even look for resources online. has many suggestions for how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment. For instance, if you think it might help and you feel safe enough, talk with the harasser. Clearly explain the problem behavior and state that you want them to stop. Some other possible responses are to report the harassment to your employer, involve your union, and file a lawsuit. Whatever your situation, it is important to keep good records of all incidents and communications.

Through this whole process, remember that you are not alone, don’t deserve to be harassed, and don’t have to submit to it.


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