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Sexual harassment is illegal and uncivil

Society changes and so does what is acceptable. Media and government surveys estimate the percentage of women being sexually harassed in the U.S. workplace at 40% to 60%. While the majority of sexual harassment complaints come from women, the number of complaints filed by men is increasing. In 2004, more than 15% of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints were filed by men.

Define sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is the inappropriate sexualization of an otherwise non-sexual relationship. The severity of the harassment is determined to a large extent by the impact it has on the victim.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unwelcome or unwanted attention of a sexual nature that causes discomfort, humiliation, offense or distress, and / or interferes with the job. It includes a range of behavior from mild transgressions and annoyances to serious abuses. It is not honoring professional boundaries.

Sexual harassment is a form of abuse and bullying. Sexual harassment is not about sex. Harassment usually relates to intimidation, exploitation and power.

"It was just a joke" is no excuse. It is the consequences, not the intentions that count. Sexual harassment can be verbal by sexist, crude or suggestive remarks, through casual touching or open advances, to the extremes of coercion or blackmail if the harasser has the power to threaten. It does not include a relationship between two consenting adults.

Effects
Sexual harassment affects workplace performance of the individual harassed. A study on the effects on work teams shows unwanted sexual attention was associated with increased team conflict and diminished group cohesion which resulted in inferior financial performance. Combating sexual harassment makes good business sense.

There’s a loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred and a loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or their colleagues.

From the ISU Campus Climate Assessment Project Final Report November 2004
“I routinely have women students come to my office asking for advice about how to deal with flirtatious male professors or professors who use sexist language in class...”
From the summary--
Notably, over half of participants who identify as a woman or as lesbian, gay, or bisexual fear for their personal safety due to their membership in their respective constituent groups… the majority of respondents who report being the victim of a bias-related incident are women, LGBT, and/or a person of color. While these finding are not remarkable when compared to similar investigations, they are notable, if not alarming, in that they point to a lack of civility towards these constituent groups.
Surveys returned: 1001 students, 582 faculty, 265 staff, and 52 administrators (1000 women; 907 men)

Things you can do if you are harassed
Politely, but firmly, confront the individual doing the harassing. State that the actions/conduct are unwelcome and request that the person cease the unwanted actions.

Document the details: include dates, times, places, and description of each incident of harassment. Include who might have witnessed it, whom you spoke to about it, and what you may have done about it if anything. Read the policy and complaint processes from the original post on sexual harassment, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2006/09/guest_post_about_sexual_harass.html.

More reading
The Wikipedia entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment, has many reference links.

Sexual Harassment Support, nonprofit organization
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/SHworkplace.html
Effects of Sexual Harassment on the Victim, http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/effects.html

Effects on workplace teams, news release from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, http://qnc.queensu.ca/story_loader.php?id=42b98262192e9

Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment At Work, Equal Rights and Economic Opportunities for Women and Girls, http://www.equalrights.org/publications/kyr/shwork.asp
Equal Rights Advocates, Inc. is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.

Comments

Lynette,

Good stuff, as always.

Interesting overlap with statistics I recently read about harassment in the virtual world. In the wake of the Don Imus disgrace and the Kathy Sierra cyber-harassment case, I am still processing some confusion I have about sexually explicit threats and sexualized name-calling against women... and why it is that criticisms of women seem to go there so quickly. Am I mistaken in that perception?

As usual, I am off to think.

-Dana

Lynette:
Good stuff! It always makes me think!
I recall a working situation early in my career where I didn't feel safe. I would have to "psych" myself up every day just to go to work. It was exhausting. Recalling that situation, I appreciate my current working environment. Sue