It is important to understand that if someone touches you sexually at work, even over your clothing, it is considered as sexual harassment as well as sexual assault and should be taken seriously. But should you let “harmless”, crude remarks and sexual innuendos go? No! If something is making you feel uncomfortable, you should stop it right then and there before it escalates. Here are steps to help you protect yourself and your civil rights if you have been or are being sexually harassed at work.
Step 1: Confront the Harasser and tell them to Stop!
Confront the person sexually harassing you. Look them in the eye and tell them what they did was inappropriate. Be specific and blunt – do not worry about being rude; you have a right to be. The first time someone does something you object to, tell them “STOP!” Say it loud enough for others to hear for extra emphasis. Never apologize or make excuses for the offender.
Step 2: Document It or Report It Immediately
Sexual harassment is wrong, illegal and deserves to be addressed immediately. But if you feel in your best judgment that you have handled things in Step 1, at least document the date, time, place, what happened, your action, and the harasser’s response. If it ever happens again to you, or to someone else at work, you will have a history to refer to.
Step 3: Report It Immediately If Touching Is Involved
Never let sexual touches or demands for sex go unreported. Touching in a sexual manner is sexual assault. Document the incident and immediately report it to management.
Step 4: Report to Police
If you have been sexually assaulted, you have the right to call the police and report it as a crime. Never let guilt or a desire to protect your attacker keep you from asserting your rights. You have done nothing wrong and someone who gets away with one instance may continue the harassment which could escalate into a more violent crime, like rape.
Step 5: Hire a Lawyer If You Have Been Harmed
If you report sexual harassment and as a result, lose your job or are demoted, you may wish to contact a civil rights attorney. Or, if you report the incident to the management and they do not take appropriate steps to investigate and stop harassment at work – call an attorney.
Federal laws protect your rights to work in an environment free from sexual harassment. A good civil rights attorney can advise you if you have a case and what legal steps to take to sue your harasser or employer in civil court.
If you are physically injured by an attacker, you should call the police immediately, and then contact an attorney as soon as possible to document evidence you may need later to prove your case.
There are several sections of the Penal Code codify offences that could be applied in cases of sexual assault and harassment (unwanted sexual touching, attention or threats that compel someone to comply with a request for sexual relations). Section 354 criminalizes assault intended to “outrage [a woman’s] modesty”, which is punishable by a sentence of up to two years and possible fine. Section 509 provides for imprisonment and/or fine to anyone making sounds, exhibiting objects or behavior, or acting in a way to insult a woman’s modesty.
Step 6: Get Help – Find Support
Victims often blame themselves in some way, or others may say the victim was “asking for it.” If you have been traumatized, consider joining a support group or get professional counseling. It helps some victims feel empowered again if they become proactive in an organization that seeks to end discrimination.