Tips for young women to speak out against sexual harassment

As a victim of sexual harassment, it seems obvious to you that you experienced sexual harassment. A co-worker touched you inappropriately, repeatedly told you dirty jokes or offered a promotion in exchange for sex, for example. Most reasonable people would be able to plainly see how any of these incidents were sexual harassment.

Legally, however, it must be shown that the harassing behavior was unwanted. That means if you are a victim of sexual harassment, you must tell your harasser that the behavior is unwanted and that you want it to stop.

How do you tell someone to stop sexually harassing you?

The person who is harassing you is making you uncomfortable, and now you must venture into another uncomfortable territory: talking to him or her about it. While some women may have no problem saying, “Hey! That’s sexual harassment. Stop that,” many women – especially younger women who are new to the workforce – may not feel confident enough to do so. They may worry about how speaking up will affect their careers or their reputations in the company, one of the many reasons why women don’t report sexual harassment.

Here are a few ways to handle this situation:

  • Be clear with the harasser. Say, “Your conduct is inappropriate, and I want the harassment to stop.” You might be a polite person or a shy person or have a “peacemaker” personality, so this can be difficult and make you feel anxious. Find a friend to help you rehearse the conversation and instill you with confidence. It is possible the harasser doesn’t realize his or her conduct is making you uncomfortable, and you need to be firm with your boundaries.
  • Find a support system. Whether the co-worker you eat lunch with, your husband or a manager, talk to someone who can support you in your efforts. They might have advice about how to approach the individual or may offer to be there with you when you speak to the harasser.
  • Put it in writing. Compose an email or write a letter stating that you want the behavior to stop. The correspondence should state an example of the behavior, say that it is unwanted and provide information about the further disciplinary action you will take if it does not stop.
  • Tell someone else. You may need to involve a third party who can assist you. A manager, supervisor or human resources professional at your place of employment could help communicate the request to stop the behavior.

Keep a record of anything that happens related to the harassment. Save emails, take notes, record dates and times – document the harassment until it stops. It is possible that the harasser is also bothering other women, and by speaking up, you are helping them as well.

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