Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sexual Harassment

The other day I “rescued” a young girl who was studying at a coffee shop near me from an older man trying to hit on her who was clearly unwelcome. What pissed me off was that it took me half an hour to take action because I wasn’t sure if I should even interfere and that no one else seemed to care. I waited until the man stood up to buy another drink and asked her if the man was bothering her and if she’d like me to interfere; she was really grateful because she didn’t know how to get rid of him. After cutting in twice talking to her indicating to the man than their conversation was over this guy would not lay off. I finally just asked her to walk back to campus with me because I “didn’t want to go by myself” and we ended up leaving for another coffee shop. If I had known then what I know now I would probably have interrupted early and not let it go on so long or notified the coffee shop’s staff.
So this brings me to my point. What qualifies as sexual harassment? What do I do if I am being sexually harassed? What do I do if I see someone else being sexually harassed?

Sexual harassment is any kind of unwelcome sexual advance. This could be someone making sexual innuendoes or jokes that makes one feel uncomfortable or even if an employer places a hand on an employee’s shoulder and the employee feels uncomfortable. The definition is pretty vast.
What do you do if you’re being sexually harassed?

·         Tell the offending person since it may just be a subconscious thing and they will stop.

·         Record the time, date, place the act took place. It may come in handy later.
·         If the conduct continues, it’s best to take it up with you company’s HR Representative (Human Resources) who will advise you on what to do or how to file a lawsuit.

·         In most cases you will simply take it up with your employer (if they are not the offender) whose job it is to avoid lawsuits like these and take action. [Make sure to get everything in writing. It maybe be needed later]. The accused person will also have to be transferred temporarily while an investigation takes place.
·         If this takes place outside the workplace, say in a classroom or elsewhere, take it up with an authority, be it a professor, dean, or police official. The Women’s center (and Campus Violence and Prevention Center) on most campuses also offer (confidential) help with this sort of thing.
How do I know if someone is being sexually harassed? Look for signs of discomfort. For example, signs including the following:

·         saying that they are working on something (trying to stop the conversation)

·         nervous tapping of fingers

·         clenching of fists

·         not really looking at the person (not really paying attention)

·         someone simply, saying no.
If you are in doubt you can always wait for the other person to get up to go to the bathroom or just slip the person a note asking if you need to interfere. Please be cautious and discreet with this, you don’t want to be any more involved than you need to and if the other person could possibly be a threat to you as well, it would be better if they did not read that note.

If this occurs in the workplace, again the HR rep is your best bet. You can always give a heads up to the offending person, they may not realize they are being offensive. But be careful, if this is an employer then you may face retaliation if they find your advice unwelcome. You can also find out from the person being harassed if they would like you to intervene.

Note: should you face retaliation for trying to stop/prevent sexual harassment either as a friend or as the person being harassed, know that discrimination laws prohibit retaliation for doing so as trying to stop it falls under a “protected activity.”
I do not claim to be any kind of expert in this topic but I don’t think most people are aware of what to do in a situation like this and I hated that I myself had to wait so long to act.
If you’re looking for sisterly support in any kind of situation or some friendly advice, your local SWE chapter or Women’s center are great places to go.

I tried to stay pretty general so here are a few helpful sites if you would like more information:

If there are any topics you would like discussed in future blog posts leave a note in the comments or email us with subject: ENGINEERING THE GAP.
Best of luck,

N. Riazi

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