Out of the 8 jobs I have had since I was 16, I have experienced sexual harassment in 4 of them. I don’t use this term lightly. I’ve been spoken to inappropriately by coworkers as well as by superiors and I have downright been groped. It was as if the purpose of me being there was not to do my job but to be pleasing to the eyes or sometimes, as the case may be, to the touch. Growing up, I always had low self- esteem but working in these environments and feeling objectified only perpetuated my low feelings of self- worth.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. One in four women has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Most sexual harassment incidents go unreported. Before you start the victim blame/shame game, there’s reason for that. From my own personal experience, sometimes your harasser is your superior. It feels a little hopeless when the possibility of termination or some sort of retaliation looms over your head. There is also the fear that nothing will be done about the problem and then you are just left with an awkward situation. When talking with several people about my problem with one harasser, they informed me that this particular person had been reported for sexual harassment before but had just been moved around to different departments. To me, that didn’t seem like justice so I didn’t see a point in filing a complaint and going through the trouble if he was just going to be moved around. I think a lot of people feel that way, too. I mean, we live in a world where students who rape another student on college campuses are allowed to return to school virtually punishment-free so why on earth would we ever believe anything would happen to someone who harassed us at work?
The truth of the matter is, you do have rights and if prepared and presented properly, something will be done. It just takes courage. Begin documentation of the harassment and let people in your life know about what is going on. I know it can be embarrassing and dehumanizing but letting people know what is going on will help build your case. Take this carefully constructed information to your HR department. If you feel you are dismissed, consult a lawyer who specializes in sexual harassment. These violations should not go unnoticed anymore. You are worth more than that.