In my last post I talked about what sexual harassment is. It’s not enough, however, to know what sexual harassment is. You also need to know what you can do if it happens to you.
You are not to blame. The first and most important thing is to realise that you are not in any way to blame. Your harasser is 100% responsible for their behaviour. Women often feel ashamed or even guilty when they are sexually harassed or assaulted and this stops us from talking to anyone about it. This feeling of guilt can be reinforced by the attitudes of others and ourselves. How many times have you seen both men and women implying that women “ask for it” simply because of the way they are dressed. A Facebook post that expresses this problem brilliantly is here.
Talk to a friend. I really recommend that you talk to someone you trust who will keep the information confidential. It is amazing how much it helps you to decide what to do if you are sexually harassed, if you talk it over with someone else. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting – just a chat over coffee would be fine.
Confront your harasser. If you can face it, you can talk directly to the person who has harassed you, Explain what behaviour is bothering you – name the behaviour and be specific. Tell the harasser that their behaviour is not acceptable and ask them to stop it. You can have a friend, family member or other support person present when you talk to them. You could also contact them about the harassment in writing if you don’t want to actually talk to them.
Tell your employer. If talking to your harasser doesn’t work or you don’t want to talk to them, you could report the harassment to a sexual harassment contact person at work, your team leader or manager, or a union delegate. Employers have a responsibility to prevent harassment and to respond to complaints, including complaints about their employees or clients. In New Zealand the Human Rights Act protects people from being victimised for making a complaint.
Who else can help? If you don’t want to approach anyone at work, or if your employers fail to do anything effective about the harassment, in New Zealand you can contact the Human Rights Commission (0800 496 877) and ask for advice or make a complaint. You have at least twelve months in which to do so. If you don’t live in New Zealand, there is likely to be a similar organisation that will help you. If the sexual harassment involves assault or violence, you can get help from the Police.
Talk about sexual harassment. It is important that sexual harassment is talked about. It may be repeated unless action is taken to stop it and it may affect your ability to work. It can also affect your self-esteem and lead to health problems. Remember that others may have experienced what you’ve gone through but felt unable to act. As we can see from the #metoo movement, once one woman speaks out about sexual harassment, others find the courage to do the same and things start to change. Sexual harassment is a massive problem that can only start to be solved if women speak out about it.