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NEWS | Nov. 24, 2015

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

By TSgt Yoshisha Smith 628 ABW/EO

Sexual harassment in the workplace refers to unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other forms of physical or verbal behavior of sexual nature. Such behavior also may have an implicit or explicit effect on a person's employment, interferes with personal performance at work or creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating workplace environment. Sexual harassment is also described as any behavior that is unwelcome, and which could make someone feel humiliated, intimidated or offended.

Sexual harassment can be verbal, physical or written. Workplace sexual harassment takes place at work, work related functions, between people from a similar work environment or between colleagues even outside the workplace.

Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by an immediate supervisor, a supervisor from another department, a co-worker or a customer in the workplace. Harassment can also happen between an employee and the employer or an applicant. Harassment does not necessarily have to be of sexual nature; it also includes making offensive remarks about the sex of a person. In fact, it's illegal to harass a woman by making offensive remarks about women in general.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law. Both the victim and the perpetrator can either be a man or a woman. The victim and the harasser can also be of the same sex. The law does not prohibit simple teasing, isolated cases that are not serious or offhand comments. However, harassment becomes illegal when it happens frequently or leads to an offensive or hostile work environment. The harassment also becomes illegal if it results in critical employment decisions such as the demotion or termination of the victim.

In the United States, Sexual harassment is viewed as sexual discrimination and is a violation of the "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." Sexual harassment in the workplace can take place in various circumstances, which include but are not limited to; the victim and the perpetrator being a man or woman, the victim need not be of the opposite sex; the perpetrator may be a supervisor, an employer's agent, a supervisor from another part, a workmate or a non-employee; the victim need not to be the individual harassed, but someone else affected by the offensive action; illegal sexual harassment may take place without causing discharge or economic injury to the victim; the harasser's action must be unwelcome.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives approximately 15,000 cases of workplace sexual harassment annually. Surprisingly, the commission reports harassment complaints by men have more than tripled in recent years. Currently, 11% of the cases involve men filing complaints against female supervisors. A telephone study by Louis Harris and Associates showed that 31% of female workers have experienced workplace harassment while 7% of men reported the same. All women claimed the harasser was a man while 59% of men claimed it was a woman while the others said it was a man. 43% of women said the perpetrator was a supervisor while 27% said it was a senior employee and 19% by a coworker. 8% claimed to have been harassed by a junior colleague. Various studies also indicate about 70% of women and 20% of men have experienced sexual harassment in a workplace.  

If you feel you are of have been the victim of sexual harassment you can utilize direct approach, an indirect approach or a third party approach to confront the harasser as preventive strategies.  You may also report the harassment to your chain of command and, last but not least, utilize EO/EEO resources all as reactive strategies.