Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that affects individuals from all walks of life. Unfortunately, there are many common myths surrounding this topic that can make it difficult for victims to speak up and seek help. Let’s explore some of the most pervasive myths surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace, including the harassment of men, non-physical harassment, and why victims should speak up. We will also discuss the importance of understanding and addressing this issue and resources for victims to seek help.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwanted, unwelcome, or offensive sexual behavior or language in reference to someone’s protected characteristics. It can include physical, verbal, and nonverbal conduct. Examples of sexual harassment include making sexual comments or jokes, unwelcome touching or advances, sending inappropriate emails or text messages, displaying sexually suggestive materials, and making threats or demands.
Myth 1: Only Women are Victims of Sexual Harassment
It is a common misconception that only women can be victims of sexual harassment. While women face the majority of workplace harassment, research shows that about 43% of men experience some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. Men specifically experience verbal sexual harassment most frequently, followed by online sexual harassment, unwelcome sexual touching, being physically followed, unwanted genital flashing, and sexual assault. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reported that it typically receives 12,000+ claims of sex-based harassment each year — but men file only about 16% of those charges.
There are a few reasons that the myth persists that men are not victims of sexual harassment. As evidenced by the number of EEOC reports made by men, they are must less likely to file a harassment claim. This could be due to the fear of being seen as weak or not manly enough. Like women, men may also fear retaliation or being seen as “troublemakers.” Additionally, some men may be unaware of their rights or the resources available to them if they want to file a claim. Finally, there could be a culture of silence in certain workplaces that discourages individuals, but especially men, from speaking out against sexual harassment.
Myth 2: Sexual Harassment Can't Happen Unless You Are Physically Touched
For most people, physical touch is the first thing they think of when considering sexual harassment. While physical harassment, such as nonconsenting hugs, kisses, grabbing, or assault, can be common, there are also other types of harassment. Visual harassment in the workplace can take many forms, from leering or threatening stares to rude comments about someone's looks or body language from a coworker. It could also entail displaying objects or posters with inappropriate or demeaning pictures in a workstation.
Employees who experience verbal harassment may feel threatened, frightened, degraded, or less at ease in the workplace. Because of the varied responses from other coworkers, people frequently find it difficult to recognize verbal harassment. Comments against a person's national origin, rude jokes, threats, age discrimination, name-calling, and put-downs are all examples of verbally harassing behavior.
Myth 3: Victims of Sexual Harassment Should Not Speak Up
Victims of sexual harassment may feel like they can't speak up for a variety of reasons. Fear of retaliation, doubt that their claims will be taken seriously, and feeling shame or embarrassment are all common reasons why victims remain silent. By reporting the claim, victims are taking a stand and asserting their right to a safe, harassment-free workplace. Additionally, reporting a claim can help to prevent future occurrences of sexual harassment, as perpetrators may be held accountable for their actions.
Though speaking up can be daunting, it is important for victims of sexual harassment to know that they are not alone. In addition to following the reporting procedure established within their workplace, there are numerous resources available to help victims report their claims and find the support they need. Seeking out help and support can be a powerful step towards healing and reclaiming a sense of control and self-confidence.
Myth 4: Sexual Harassment is Not a Serious Issue
Some may try to brush aside or minimize claims of sexual harassment, especially perpetrators of it. However, the impact of sexual harassment can be devastating. Victims of sexual harassment often experience feelings of shame, guilt, fear, humiliation, or anger. Victims may also suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues. They may experience physical health problems such as headaches, stomach problems, and sexually transmitted infections. They may also be less productive at work or school, have difficulty sleeping, struggle to concentrate, or have difficulty forming relationships in the future.
The consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace can be severe for employers as well. Consequences can include a hostile work environment, decreased productivity, reputational damage, and legal liability for employers. Employers may also face legal action and financial penalties if they fail to take adequate steps to address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Such steps include implementing policies and procedures that clearly define unacceptable behavior and provide a safe way for employees to report incidents of harassment. Additionally, employers should create a culture of respect and open communication, and provide workplace training to ensure employees understand their rights and responsibilities.
How to Implement Harassment Prevention Training
By being proactive with employee education, organizations can foster a safe and inclusive workplace. Workplace training on sexual harassment prevention should include specific definitions of verbal, visual, and physical harassment, a review of the organization's rules and procedures governing these types of harassment, as well as the reporting mechanism for any such events.
If you are looking to implement such training in your workplace, look no further than the Harassment & Discrimination prevention courses from EasyLlama. Our award-winning content uses interactive quizzes and real-life video scenarios to improve the retention of knowledge for employees while keeping your company in compliance. Check out your free course preview today to learn more!