I won't take it anymore! (A sexual harassment victim's guide)

 

Back in September 2016 I posted a piece on Sexual Harassment  and  20 indicators of the problem. (You can access the article by trawling through my past blogs.) Doubtless there are victims everywhere. In fact there are more victims than HR will get to see for reason that many do not report. Victims are always confused, embarrassed, shocked. They carry feelings of shame and even may blame themselves for the violation of their person. Most victims just do not know what to do. Overwhelmed by grief and suffering each is suddenly in uncharted waters. Torn between the want to expose the perpetrator and the consequences of doing so they are frozen in a state of perpetual chaos. The incident permeates their personal and professional life and almost always negatively impacts their on the job performance. The victim needs support. Sometimes they may not seek it or even reject it.  The incident, in my view, is a call to action. HR needs to be proactive and to give victims a framework for proceeding with a complaint. So here are the 20 things a victim needs to do or to contemplate :

 

 

  • Write down everything you recall about the incident – time, date, place, context, what was said and/or done. Do not interpret, just record the bare facts
  • List and describe your feelings – all of them
  • Tell the perpetrator that you are offended by their behavior and that it must stop immediately
  • Engage with someone you can trust and whose opinions you value and tell them your story and keep notes of that discussion
  • List any witnesses whether or not you know them
  • Retain all evidence if you received unwelcome notes, gifts, cards, emails, tweets, feeds and the like. Take screen shots of everything then back it all up
  • Check you organization’s policies or code of conduct relating to harassment at work
  • Make a judgement call about calling out this behavior to a carefully chosen and appropriate person within your organization. Typically this is likely to be the head of HR, your boss or the person to whom your boss reports
  • Put it all in writing. Prepare a compelling complaint. Have a person who you trust and value review the material before you table it. Listen to what they have to say
  • Expect engagement soon after lodging the complaint. Have a highly trusted and able person be present for the engagement as a support person; not as an advocate, spokesperson or prosecutor. If you are denied a support person do not engage
  • State categorically at the initial engagement that you require action on your complaint
  • Know the outcome(s) you seek as you will be asked this at the initial engagement. These might include – apology, an undertaking that it will not happen again, an investigation and report, an external review, perpetrator counselling, perpetrator resignation, perpetrator dismissal, access to professional help and support for you
  • Document all that was said and canvassed at the initial engagement and have your support person do likewise. Compare notes
  • Escalate if your complaint is not actioned appropriately or there is obfuscation. Best then to take the matter to the CEO
  • Resist any urge to engage with colleagues as this will lead to gossip, innuendo and rumor. None of this will be helpful to you
  • Refuse to enter into a non disclosure agreement
  • Consider going to the Police if the behavior was sexual assault. Consider legal advice before going down this path
  • Accept that you will likely experience some or most of the following after formally complaining: - nervousness, anxiety, stress, guilt, apprehension, worry, fear, shame, being disbelieved, lonely, isolated, pressured, confused. Worse still you might suffer retaliation
  • Recognize that it is likely that the perpetrator has harassed others who have remained silent. Remember that it takes just one to crack the silence
  • Engage with your support person throughout the process or seek and take wise counsel from a Mentor carefully chosen by you. Stay brave, remain strong

 

Victims, when calling out the behavior get to notice that those very feelings that consumed them are suddenly migrated to the perpetrator. Even though the perpetrator may deny, excuse, downplay or mitigate the matter they invariably experience those emotions that overwhelmed the victim. Mostly they feel bad – about being exposed. Call it karma, just deserts or pay back, it happens. Yet neither victim nor perpetrator will ever be the same again.

 

Finally, to those who remained mute when observing appalling incidents of harassment you should suffer too, for you also can never be the same again.  Shame; yet your pain is self inflicted.

 

Views: 47

Comment by Bernard Keith Althofer on December 8, 2017 at 7:14

Excellent advice.  These points could also be used in relation to workplace bullying.

I would also consider:

  • Attending and completing all training that the organisation provides i.e. face to face, self paced, online etc
  • Taking a copy of the organisational policy and procedure if this is allowed by the organisation
  • Reading and making notes about the organisational policy and procedures, and in particular the resolution options (be aware that some policies will contain the Do Nothing option)
  • Look for covert and overt signs that sexual harassment is tolerated to the point of acceptance i.e. sending of jokes, display of photographs
  • Understand that performance management processes may used to address performance issues and that sometimes as a target, it will be your performance that is under the spotlight (unfortunately, some managers may not want to address causal factors i.e. the harassing behaviours that impact on performance because 1. they don't believe them 2. they don't know how to address the behaviours 3. they don't see it is their problem 4. they deny accountability and responsibility.

As a former Sexual Harassment Referral Officer, it should also be noted that a support person may have to report issues involving official misconduct or misconduct and this in itself may impact on whether or not an individual will report sexual harassment or even bullying.

Whilst sexual harassment may not fall under health and safety legislation, there are health and safety implications with the potential for a target to suffer physical or psychological injuries (not to mention financial distress).  Given that duty of care obligations extends to targets and alleged harassers (bullies), individuals need to be provided with training that helps them provide a proactive and reactive response to reduce the risk of becoming a target, and also in responding to incidents.  In some organisations, Codes of Conduct may also provide an avenue that should be pursued in particular, about the need to treat people with respect and dignity.  In my experience, training sessions gloss over this aspect.

It is difficult to call out behaviour when the workplace culture tolerates such behaviours to the point of acceptance and that by calling out such behaviours, one becomes labelled as a 'troublemaker' or 'not a team player'.  However, that does not mean that the behaviour should not be called out.  In fact, I would suggest that everytime an incident occurs, the behaviours needed to be addressed. 

Reporting sexual harassment and even bullying may be a difficult process to go through.  However, if no-one is prepared to take a stand, more people will suffer.

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