I have investigated a large number of sexual harassment complaints this article busting the myths contains most of the excuses for the behaviour that I have heard when interviewing perpetrators.
I believe that when it comes to sexual harassment the behaviour is;
Deliberate – Where the perpetrator knowingly behaves in a sexually harassing manner towards the victim.
Offensive – Where the person subjected to the actions of the perpetrator is offended by those actions.
Unwanted – Where the actions of the perpetrator are unwanted by the co-worker whether or not the perpetrator intended to sexually harass, or the co-worker was not actually offended.
The sexual harassment can be each of those categories or a combination of one or all.
The Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020), the 932-page report released by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, included data from the 2018 National Survey that revealed, almost two in five women (39%) and just over one in four men (26%) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.
Myth: We don’t need a sexual harassment policy in our organisation, after all it’s common sense.
Fact: Having policies that clearly outline the behavioural expectations of your organisation is part of taking all reasonable steps to ensure that there is nothing in the workplace that could cause an employee to suffer and illness or injury.
Sexual harassment has been linked to the development of psychological illness such as stress, anxiety, depression and PTSD.
Myth: We don’t need sexual harassment training in our organisation, after all this is also common sense.
Fact: Having training that clearly outlines the behavioural expectations of your organisation is another part of taking all reasonable steps to eliminate or respond to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Training in conjunction with policies allows you to clearly outline the consequences for behaving in a sexually harassing manner towards other staff members.
Myth: I can’t report sexual harassment as no one will believe me
Fact: In many cases sexual harassers are serial offenders, known as the office sleaze, the person to keep away from. Many people especially young women are told early on “look out for him he’s a real sleaze” or similar.
Management and HR are in a much better position to take action if they have information to act upon.
The best way to help stop these people is take a stand, refuse to be the victim and report it HR or management. Not allowing yourself to be a victim is courageous and empowering.
Myth: As a HR professional or manager I can’t do anything about sexual harassment unless someone makes a complaint.
Fact: If you see it, hear about it, know about it or suspect that sexual harassment is occurring you should/must take some action.
You have a duty of care to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Don’t make excuses, they may come back to bite you.
Myth: It’s not sexual harassment if “I didn’t mean anything by it” or “I was only joking”
Fact: Most, if not all harasses are well aware of what they are doing. Do not accept this excuse, especially if the harasser has been told that the behaviour or comments are not acceptable or has been told to stop.
Myth: If I ask a co-worker out on a date she/he can claim that it is sexual harassment
Fact: It is not sexual harassment to ask a co-worker out on a date; HOWEVER, if you are asking a co-worker out on a date after being previously refused, ignored or not receiving a definitive answer YES it can be sexual harassment.
Myth: If I have already dated a co-worker she/he cannot claim that it is sexual harassment if I keep asking them out.
Fact: Once again it may not be sexual harassment if they consent, but it is sexual harassment if they decline further dates, no matter how many you have been on.
Just because they went out with you once, twice or many times does not mean they do not have the right for future refusal.
Persistence is NOT a virtue.
Myth: It is not sexual harassment if they don’t really say ‘no’ when I keep asking them out or making those sorts of suggestions.
Fact: Often the recipient of the request may feel awkward in saying no and may change the subject or avoid answering the question or say something like “I don’t know if I’m free, I’ll get back to you.”
If there is a power imbalance, for example manager and direct report, or manager and other staff member again the recipient of the request/s could be fearful that a direct refusal may harm their career or position in the company.
The golden rule is if they don’t say a clear absolute unambiguous YES then it’s a NO.
Myth: It is not sexual harassment if I am only texting.
Fact: Sexually harassing someone via text, Facebook or any other social media or carriage is still sexual harassment.
Myth: It is not necessarily sexual harassment for a boss or manager to ask a co-worker out on a date.
Fact: It’s not, but using your power or seniority to coerce a co-worker into going out with you – bit of no brainer there, YES of course that is
Myth: Making a comment about how someone looks is not sexual harassment
Fact: Commenting “You look nice today” in a neutral friendly manner, is not sexual harassment.
Commenting “You look nice today” in a leering, looking up and down suggestive or sleazy manner – YES that is sexual harassment.
Myth: I am a tactile person, so touching is not sexual harassment
Fact: Seriously, it is – here is a simple rule; respect other people’s personal space, don’t do it, don’t touch unless clearly invited to do so.
Keep your hands to yourself.
Myth: Sending or giving a co-worker gifts or tokens of your affection is not sexual harassment
Fact: Many complaints of this nature occur after an initial indication that the attention is unwelcome.
If this is the case YES this can be construed as sexual harassment. Remember unless it is a definite YES then assume it’s a NO. In this case persistence is not a virtue
Myth: In the past we have had mutually acceptable sexual conversations and/or a consensual sexual relationship so wanting to continue is not sexual harassment
Fact: These are examples of behaviour that is not generally regarded sexual harassment due to the consensual nature.
HOWEVER, should one party decide not to continue the relationship or conversational banter, when the other party is made aware of this should they desist immediately as continuing past this point may constitute sexual harassment.
Myth: It wasn’t sexual harassment because we were all drinking and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Fact: TWO WORDS – Personal responsibility and YES, it is
Myth: I can’t report the sexual harassment as I was drinking, and I didn’t really know what to do.
Fact: Drinking or being intoxicated/drunk does not make the harassment any less unwarranted or unwanted and does not provide an excuse for the harasser
Myth: She is always flirty and dresses in a provocative manner, it’s not my fault, she encouraged me.
Fact: A person’s manner is not relevant. What one person considers to be flirty may be intended to be friendly, outgoing and bubbly. A simple rule; do not read too much into friendly behaviour.
The way a person dresses is not an invitation for attention nor is it an intention to engage in sexual conduct.
Myth: You should just ignore some people, “that’s just him, he’s harmless, just ignore him, everybody knows he’s a bit sleazy.”
Fact: While these are commons comments, it is not acceptable to have to just ignore a person whose behaviour is inappropriate by saying ‘that’s just him”
Myth: It’s not my business, I should just ignore it
Fact: You should NEVER just ignore it. Imagine if it were you. The victim may be too afraid to report the matter.
Everyone in a workplace has a duty of care to ensure that they do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of all others in the workplace.
Myth: I don’t think that we have a policy about sexual harassment. No one has told me about what I should or shouldn’t do so it’s not my fault.
Fact: If the business is sensible they will have one and you will have been told about it – ASSUME THAT YOU HAVE BEEN TOLD
Myth: I didn’t know what I was doing was wrong, so it’s not my fault.
Fact: It the business is sensible they will have conduct sexual harassment awareness training – ASSUME THAT YOU KNOW NOW
Myth: I really don’t know what is classed as sexual harassment.
Fact: Here are some examples of sexual harassment that might be helpful to assist in understanding:
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