What Can You Do If You Are Sexually Harassed?
If you suspect that you are being sexually harassed, immediately let the perpetrator know, firmly and clearly, that his actions are unwelcome and unacceptable.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts:
- Indicate CLEARLY that you are uncomfortable with the behaviour. Say NO effectively and emphatically. It is more important to be firm than polite. If you are more comfortable not speaking to the perpetrator face to face, send an SMS or email. This message and the perpetrator’s reply may also be used as evidence.
- Collect evidence – Start a log and note down dates, times, places and who was present at the time of the incidents and give detailed accounts of the unwelcomed sexual behaviour.
- Keep any email or SMS correspondence with the harasser as evidence. Taped evidence is also useful.
- Alert or inform someone whom you trust at the workplace of the harassment. Talk to friends or family members that you trust about the incident. Even if they were not present at the harassment scene, they may be able to support your case as witnesses.
- Document your own work and communications within the company in case the harasser starts to question your work performance to justify his or her behaviour.
- Consult your HR department or, at least, another superior, and give them a chance to help you resolve the situation. If possible, provide them with some concrete evidence of harassment. This could include written evidence or a witness. In this way, the company is deemed to have notice of this incident and has a legal obligation to act. If you are planning to resign and want some action to be taken against the perpetrator, it is better to report the incident before you resign.
- In terms of working with HR/grievance procedures, they usually ask for names of people within the company who might act as your witnesses. Speak honestly based on what you know, who might have witnessed the incident and who you have told about the incident.
- Be mentally prepared that not all your colleagues are willing to testify for you. They may be afraid to get involved especially where the perpetrator is their superior.
- If possible, ask for a clear time line of the investigation process from the beginning. Also ask for a written clarification of how the investigation will be carried out.
- Try as hard as you can not to be alone with the harasser, especially avoiding after work functions with the harasser. If you have no other co-workers apart from the harasser and would inevitably have to be alone with the harasser in the office, consider having a recording device handy that you can discreetly turn on. In the cases of team events, try to make sure that you have at least one colleague that you trust around, so that he/she can be your witness, if necessary.
- Call AWARE’s Helpline at 1800 774-5935 for advice or make a police report if the incident is serious and you are prepared for the police to conduct an investigation.
- Consult a lawyer in your first meeting about his professional experience in dealing with sexual harassment cases.
- Request that the lawyer set out in writing his policy on charging and an estimate of the fees.
- Don’t be unclear about your discomfort.
- Don’t use the words “please don’t”. Harassers will only hear the “please”.
- Don’t be timid. It will just fuel the perpetrator’s ego. If you find it hard to be assertive to the perpetrator, it might help for you to think about an appropriate assertive response, visualise how you can say this, practise doing this in front of a mirror or a trusted buddy. If you need to speak to someone about this, send us an email at email@example.com.
- Don’t make excuses for not complying (‘Sorry I have a boyfriend’). It is not as effective as saying NO.
- Don’t ignore it. It is unlikely to stop if this is all you do.
Seek Advice or Counselling
It is important for victims of sexual harassment to process their feelings about their experience. Sexual harassment can be traumatic and may give rise to long term adverse psychological effects. Victims of harassment may experience a range of emotions, including confusion, humiliation, fear, anger, isolation and guilt.
If you need advice on how to deal with a harasser in the workplace, call our Helpline at 1800 774-5935.
Our helpliners may refer you to meet with our lawyers at our Legal Clinic or to our Counsellors.