Despite laws to protect workers, sexual harassment in the workplace still happens. So, what constitutes sexual harassment, what should you do if you think you’ve been sexually harassed, and who can you turn to for help?
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is any form of behaviour of a sexual nature that is not welcome by the person on the receiving end of it. Sexual harassment can be verbal, non-verbal or physical.
If someone at your workplace makes comments about your body, your appearance (even what you’re wearing in some circumstances) can be considered to be sexual harassment. Any remarks, comments or questions about your sex life or orientation, or demands for sexual favours are also unacceptable, even if meant as a joke.
Non-verbal sexual harassment includes a colleague staring at your body, ‘sexting’, emailing you with indecent pictures or of a sexual nature or displaying pictures of a sexually suggestive nature, e.g. calendars showing naked men or women.
Physical sexual harassment occurs if a colleague makes any form of physical contact with you, assaults you indecently or rapes you.
Only confront the perpetrator if you feel safe and comfortable in doing so. If you feel more confident with someone to support you, ask a colleague or trade union representative to accompany you. Make it clear that you want the behaviour to stop immediately. When you have said your piece, walk away.
If you don’t want to confront your harasser directly, put your feelings in writing. Write a letter rather than an email that could end up in the public domain and keep a copy of it. Make it clear that if their behaviour does not stop, you will escalate the matter through your line manager.
Keep a diary of the behaviour that you find unacceptable. Write down the times, locations and dates when this behaviour occurred and if anyone was a witness to it. You will need this information if you decide to make the complaint official, either at work or with the police.
Your employer is legally obliged to investigate your complaint and take measures to deal with it. Always keep a written record of what happens during any discussions you have with your employer, and take someone with you to meetings.
If your abuser continues to harass you despite the action you and your employer have taken, you can take the matter to an industrial tribunal. It is also advisable at this juncture to seek the advice of a specialist employment law firm.
Every employee has the legal right to work in an environment that is safe and comfortable. You should not feel threatened in any way by the behaviour of a colleague.
Safeline is a charity that can support you through the above process, providing a range of services, including our friendly helpline and online advisors, specialist legal support workers and local support groups where you can talk with others who have experienced similar harassment.(we don’t provide this and couldn’t do it or it would contaminate evidence)
Safeline offer face-to-face and online counselling for people who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The helplines are open six days every week, Monday to Saturday. Although most people associate sexual harassment as being perpetrated by a man on a woman, that’s not always the case. Safeline offer a UK dedicated male helpline for men who have experienced sexual harassment.
Safeline also run group and creative therapy sessions in order to help those who have been abused to recover and start to function normally again. For those who want to report their harassment to the police, Safeline have Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA) who can provide them with practical and emotional support throughout the process.
In an effort to prevent the damage that can be done by sexual harassment, Safeline run prevention projects that educate and support vulnerable young people. Training is also offered to parents and professionals.
If you would like to talk about any of the issues touched upon in this article then contact Safeline in confidence.
To speak to one of our helpline advisors, please call 0808 800 5008 today.