Sexual harassment is any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that you find offensive or which makes you feel distressed, intimidated or humiliated. You don't have to have objected to a certain kind of behaviour in the past for it to be unwanted and constitute harassment.
Sexual harassment can include:
- someone making sexually degrading comments or gestures
- your body being stared or leered at
- being subjected to sexual jokes or propositions
- e-mails or text messages with sexual content
- physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances and touching
- someone displaying sexually explicit pictures in your space or a shared space, such as at work
Although sexual harassment happens everywhere, it is very common at work. It can cause stress and hostility in the workplace, and over time, it can lead to physical and emotional problems, such as headaches, nausea, cystitis, depression, anxiety, problems sleeping and eating and loss of self-confidence. Many women end up leaving their job rather than have to carry on enduring sexual harassment.
If this is happening to you, it is not your fault and you are not being unreasonable by objecting to it. The harasser is to blame and is abusing their position of trust and power. You may not be the only person they are harassing.
With some support and information, there are things you can do:
- Tell the harasser to stop. Let them know you dislike their behaviour. You could ask another work colleague to do this on your behalf. You can let them know in writing that their behaviour is unreasonable (keep a copy of the letter if you do this). If you want to confront the harasser in person, take someone with you such as a union representative (if you have one), or a senior member of staff.
- Confide in someone at work that you trust.
- Keep a note of dates and times of each incident, and details of what happened and what was said.
- Report the harassment to someone in authority. This can be important if you ever want to take legal action in future
- If the harasser touches you, it is sexual or indecent assault and you can report them to the police if you want to.
You can also contact your nearest Rape Crisis service or Citizens' Advice for support around experiences of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is recognised as a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and is therefore against the law. Most organisations and companies have proper procedures for dealing with sexual harassment and complaints.
If your employer treats you badly or unfavourably because you complain about sexual harassment in the workplace, that is harassment too and you might be able to bring a case under the Equality Act 2010.
No one should have to put up with sexual harassment at work.