Let’s Talk About Sexual Harassment: Same Old Issues?

Sadly, sexual harassment is something that has been around for ages and still exists. While we may hear about it more frequently in the workplace, the reality is that sexual harassment knows no boundaries. It is not limited by environment, financial or professional status, age, or gender.

Oftentimes, victims do not realize they’re being harassed while others fear the ramifications of speaking out. Fortunately, as per Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, individuals or witnesses that do come forward are protected by law. Likewise, the violators are penalized on a case-by-case basis that may include hefty legal fines, imprisonment, and more.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome physical advances, conduct, or verbal statements and requests. An incident may involve actionable behavior, or “quid pro quo” (this for that), which typically involves a student or employee being asked for sexual favors in return for something else such as passing grades or a promotion. Another form of sexual harassment is known as a hostile environment, whereas sexually oriented conversations create an environment that causes individuals to feel insulted, threatened, or intimidated.   Such incidences can affect a person’s living or work environment as well as mental and emotional status or performance.

Sexual Harassment – Some See It Differently

According to the EEOC, sexual harassment is perceived differently among men and women. Especially, in the work environment, the higher-ranking managers are often more oblivious to how often it occurs. Until the 1980s, organizations did not place much focus on sexual harassment. Since then, guidelines have been created for employers.

Additionally, research conducted by psychologists indicates that sexual harassment is less about sex and more about power over someone and the ability to manipulate others. In the past, victims were most often female, however according to the APA’s Journal of Occupations Health Psychology, men are coming forth. As stated earlier, sexual harassment knows no boundaries.

Sadly, the victims of sexual harassment don’t always speak out. The reasons for this vary, and include the fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, the dreadful thought of not being believed, or because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.

In the past, putting the blame on the victim has been a strategy used to fight harassment and rape charges. Additionally, the psychological duress often caused by sexual harassment is so overwhelming that it sometimes takes years for victims to come forth.

This is especially true in an environment that effects one’s financial, professional, or educational future. And while there are laws in place that protect victims from acts of retaliation, the fact is that fear can play a major role in decision making, which typically results in overlooking the true issue.

Further, statistics indicate that victims are often questioned about the accuracy of the occurrence and evidence is sometimes deemed unreliable. The situation can seem dire in some instances, which is why it is so important to continue to raise awareness, educate the public, and help people feel empowered rather than fearful. Prevention is so much better than correction.

Combatting the Problem

In recent years, the media has had the spotlight on the issue which has helped raise awareness and understanding of what sexual harassment is and how to deal with it.

Ultimately, the offense can make any environment toxic and unpleasant, causing victims to withdraw socially, suffer from physical ailments, lose confidence and become less productive, depressed, and anxious.

Nowadays, organizations everywhere are implementing training programs that not only help prevent and eliminate the problem, but also give a voice to those effected. Human Resource Departments offer ways to report incidences anonymously, seek counsel, and overall provide more protection to individuals from all walks of life. Bottom line, everyone is entitled to feel safe, protected, and respected.  

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