How to spot sexual harassment in the workplace

Modern workplaces have grown in many ways to provide greater gender equity, but women still face sexual harassment at stunning rates. Over half of women say they’ve experienced sexual harassment at work. Even more troubling is the leniency afforded the men who commit it—statistics show that 95% of men accused were unpunished, according to the women they harassed.

It’s telling that many of these men were in positions of power within the company. In fact, 56% of men say they’re aware that consequences generally don’t happen after a sexual harassment report.

Because of this culture of denial and gaslighting, it can be difficult for women to feel safe reporting an incident. That’s why it’s necessary for other colleagues to pay attention and take note of possible sexual harassment taking place at work, because the women experiencing it may need an advocate down the road.

An insidious problem

Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be as overt as physical advances. Sometimes, it permeates office culture in subtle ways: the way men talk about women, the jokes cracked at women’s expense, and a general disproportionate balance of power favoring men. Anyone can participate in these inequitable dynamics, which often set the stage for harassment to thrive and go unnoticed except by the victims.

The following are a few tips for learning how to spot and call out harassment in your own workplace:

  1. Consider the industry you work in – some work environments incur higher rates of harassment than others. Positions creating isolation, such as janitorial, hotel, agriculture, and home healthcare workers, open up more opportunities for harassment. Tipped workers tend to face harassment frequently, especially in the restaurant and bar industry. From comments to unwanted advances, female servers are often on the receiving end of these behaviors with no support.
  2. Be vigilant of office culture – if there is a prevalence of jokes at the expense of either women in general or a particular woman, it’s important to recognize that this may either be a precursor or indicator of sexual harassment that’s already occurring.
  3. Look at your workplace’s power structures – if men occupy the majority of positions of authority, be aware that women in other positions may be experiencing harassment and feel like they can’t report it.

If you spot these or other possible scenarios in your workplace that might welcome harassment, it’s important to step up and advocate for your colleagues. Let them know you’re willing to act as a witness, provide them with support like legal contacts with an experienced attorney or back them up when reporting to Human Resources.

If you’re the victim of sexual harassment at your workplace, there are options. Contact an attorney today to begin your case and seek the justice you deserve.

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