A 2015 study conducted by Cosmopolitan, based on the responses of over 2,000 women, revealed that one third of women in the United States had been sexually assaulted (http://www.cosmopolitan.com/career/news/a36453/cosmopolitan-sexual-harassment-survey/). With this information in mind, you might picture sexual harassment as an overt and obvious or even aggressive groping. Yet, the reality is that most sexual harassment is more subtle than this and far more widespread of an issue than most people realize.
Sexual harassment can be a complicated issue in the workplace because what some would define as
harassment, others would not. For example, think of the relationship between Morgan and Garcia on the popular television show, Criminal Minds. The show makes it clear that the behavior and verbal communication between them is entirely appropriate and acceptable, though in most other scenarios, it would be obvious and blatant sexual harassment. The issue here is that what some people consider appropriate, others do not. Further, what someone might consider appropriate with one co-worker, they wouldn’t accept from another.
Ultimately, you have to know what your boundaries are and when they are crossed. More importantly, you need to report sexual harassment when it occurs. This is worth pointing out because of the women who were involved in the Cosmopolitan study, less than 30% of the women who admitted to having been sexually assaulted actually reported the incident. More than 70% of women said that then never reported the incident.
Part of the reason for this is that women don’t want to draw attention to the issue, which may be extremely humiliating. It takes a certain amount of bravery and a willingness to step into the spot light to report sexual harassment in many cases. Yet, failing to do so leaves the perpetrators without consequences, likely to reoffend, and does not help to secure the safety and respect of other women in the workplace.
There Are Different Kinds of Workplace Sexual Harassment
With the knowledge that a remarkably large percentage of sexual harassment cases are never reported at all, you might be surprised and appalled to learn that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that there are still between 7K and 9K complaints of harassment filed every single year, and the numbers aren’t going down.
You might also be unaware of how many different forms of sexual harassment can occur in the workplace. For instance, many imagine that those in management and supervisory positions are usually the perpetrator in sexual harassment situations. This is not actually so, though this kind of workplace sexual harassment does occur. People often think that sexual harassment is something that only occurs between men and women, with men being the aggressor. The reality is that sexual harassment also occurs between people of the same sex, and even in heterosexual harassment, it is not always the man who is guilty.
Men, however, are even less likely to report such harassment, and those who are harassed by someone of the same gender are also less likely to report it. For anyone, sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment, but many would rather avoid the aggressor, ignore them, or even quit their job than to actually report the incident or situation. Some fear that they won’t be believed or that they won’t be able to prove it. Others fear that they will lose their hard earned position within the company if they do report it. Many are afraid of the social implications in the workplace when they experience and consider reporting sexual harassment.
What Do You Do If You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work in Missouri?
Many people who are victims of sexual harassment don’t feel like they can report it or address it in a way that won’t lead to negative consequences for themselves, financially or socially. There is a common sense of being powerless and incapable of doing anything about the hostile work environment. There are enough challenges associated with earning a living, and many will try to ignore sexual harassment, pretend it isn’t happening, or completely avoid the person who is doing it. Here is where it’s important to point out that you do have options for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, and you don’t have to be afraid of the consequences.
One of the first things that you should do if someone is sexually harassing you is to tell them so. There are many cases where the person who is behaving inappropriately doesn’t even realize it. This could be due to cultural influences or a simple lack of awareness of how their words and behaviors make others feel. Of course, this isn’t the case in all or even the majority of sexual harassment cases, but setting boundaries and letting someone know that what they are saying or doing is unacceptable is a good place to start.
Yet, in saying this, we must be careful to not shift the blame for sexual harassment to the victim. There are many cases where simply stating how you feel and setting boundaries with someone would not be effective, and the victim should never be blamed for not asserting themselves. This is just one way that some sexual harassment situations might be resolved, depending on what kind of harassment is occurring.
Once you’ve addressed the situation in this manner, if the harassment doesn’t stop, then you should file an official complaint with the company’s human resources department. Typically, a business will have procedures in place for dealing with such complaints. If they do not, then you can bring the matter to the attention of your supervisor – or their supervisor if your supervisor is the aggressor or if your supervisor doesn’t respond appropriately to the complaint.
If none of these options resolves the situation, then you can file a formal claim with the Federal Equal Employment Commission. They will attempt to address your claim with your employer, and if unsuccessful, they will issue a right to sue letter, stating that you can file a lawsuit against the person who is harassing you and the employer who did nothing to stop it.
Contact a Missouri Attorney to Learn More About Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
If you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you can learn more about your rights and options by contacting the Krause & Kinsman Law Firm. Call today to schedule a free and confidential consultation, and we’ll help you to assert your right to a healthy workplace environment and pursue a civil claim against your employer and/or harasser.
Adam Krause is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Adam Krause has made a career of taking complicated litigation and presenting it in the most elementary terms for a jury of your peers to understand. Learn more about his experience here.