Once you’ve been sexually harassed at work – it can make the environment feel unsafe. It creates a new challenge at work and if you don’t take specific actions – it’ll make your life even more miserable.
In light of the recent events regarding Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and the crises at Uber – I’ve felt a strong calling to speak about sexual harassment. In the past several articles I’ve been talking about how we can support our friends, family, spouse or co-worker if it happens to them – now I’m going to talk about what to do if it happens to YOU.
When someone we care about, be it a co-worker, spouse or friend, it affects them, hurts them, and injures us as well. In my desire to help you have the best relationships in life, I’m writing this article to help you navigate what to do if you’ve been sexually harassed at work. By reading this article you can minimize the pain, mitigate the potential fracture it can cause in your life and relationships, and most importantly this article can help you get your power back.
When someone sexually harasses another at work it not only hurts the others, it also minimizes their power. When someone abuses their power they usurp the power that the other person has. In many documents I’ve read, sexual abuse is often perpetrated by someone who has more power and control than those they victimize. In a recent article by Dom Deluca, he vulnerably shared how powerhouse acting legend, Kevin Spacey, sexually harassed him and clearly imposed his authority to try to get his way. Dom’s story is just one of many stories where it’s often a person of power who uses their power to abuse another. If you’ve been abused, it’s most likely you felt less powerful and likely felt you couldn’t speak out.
Finding Your Power Again – Tell Someone What Happened
Regaining your sense of power after someone sexually abuses or harasses you isn’t easy. When it happens it can take a lot to recover and as long as the abuser is there, recovery may never fully happen. That being said, there are steps you can take to get your power back. One of the first things, something you should do right away, is telling someone at work. Report it to a superior. In many workplaces, this will help alleviate the issue greatly. If you are in a healthy work environment this will help immensely. Sadly, I know this is going to be scary and you may feel afraid to report it. If you’re too worried about reporting it, start by telling someone in your life – a friend, your father, grandparent, best friend, counselor, or a coworker.
Your initial feeling will be to stay silent, to be stunned and afraid – but staying quiet will only give the abuser more power and make you weak. Finding your strength starts with finding your voice and the ability to say no. Standing up to an abuser is not our initial reaction, reporting it often feels scary, and telling someone who cares about us can make us feel ashamed too. Staying silent won’t help you or anyone else around you who is potentially also staying quiet.
One of the first and easiest ways to find your strength after an abuser has mistreated you is to tell someone who cares about you. Tell someone you trust and who you know will have your best interest at heart. When you tell someone else, you stop staying silent, and you begin the process of finding your voice and power again.
Report The Sexual Harassment Incident To A Superior
In many workplaces, they have a process, and you are encouraged to tell a superior. If you feel safe reporting it or know that it will be handled, I advise you to report it soon as possible. If you are worried about being brushed off by a superior at work, you should still at least tell someone.
To find your power, you’ll need to talk to someone. If there’s someone at work, that is the first place to start. If initially, you don’t feel comfortable doing that, call someone that you trust. Maybe your spouse, best friend, parents, aunt, uncle, mentor, just call someone right away. By telling someone you trust, you’ll help yourself have a protective and caring alliance. You’ll help yourself build up the coverage to tell someone else at work or tell someone within the law that can help you regain your power.
Hopefully, you feel reporting the incident to the proper superiors at work. If you report it, I’d also advise you to tell a trusted coworker. By telling more than one person at work you help ensure that you’ve protected yourself in case your superiors do not take proper action. When you tell a trusted friend, a coworker and report the incident – you have now created a trial of ‘witnesses’ who know what you went through. This is part of getting your power back.
Document The Incident For Your Own Records
I’ve learned that anytime you have an issue with someone at work, or in any professional setting, it’s a good idea to document it. If someone has harassed you, you’ll want to tell a friend or someone you trust, report it to a superior, and you’ll want to document it for your records. If the incident happens again, you can use your files to help defend yourself.
By logging the incident, you’ll help assure you are protected if another incident occurs. While documenting doesn’t fully protect you, it will give you the knowledge that you’ll have documentation if anything more severe ever happens – and that will help you legally. By documenting the incident for your records, you’ll also have a written record of what happened if someone else reports more issues.
Even if your company handles the problem swiftly and they document it, I suggest you have your own copy as well. Documentation will help you be protected if a court case or any other issues arise.
Get Counseling If You Need It
Sexual harassment can be something as simple as an unwanted comment about your body, an inappropriate touch, or something as big as someone trying to force themselves on you. Whatever it is, any of these incidents can scar us, hurt us and take away our power. One small event such as a few words can impact us in a significant way – those few words can make us feel unsafe at work, uncomfortable in our bodies, and even make us feel insecure in every area of our lives.
There is no need to minimize the damage done. Most people who have been abused can easily minimize the incident. It’s easy to downplay it for fear of feeling guilty, embarrassed, or rejected by others who don’t understand. Whatever happened, it can be easy to downplay what you really feel. If you’ve been harassed at work, I strongly advise you to seek at least one counseling session. Being sexually harassed at work can cause a trauma, a trauma that we will potentially hide from ourselves. If that wound goes unchecked, it can easily impact our ability to connect with others at work, outside of work, and damage our ability to connect with others.
It’s Not Your Fault
When someone is abused in any way – the thought is to think it’s our fault. Just like a powerless child who doesn’t know better, we may think: “It’s my fault. I was in the wrong.” No you were not in the wrong. Being sexually harassed or abused is never your fault. You were attacked and someone abused you and their power.
While it may be good to consider ways in which you could have avoided the incident, it’s never your fault. Maybe you’ll find that you could have shied away from certain behaviors, that will still never excuse abuse. Perhaps you could have dressed differently, not flirted with that employee, or led someone else on…but that does not make the damage your fault. Taking responsibility and blame are two different things. Taking responsibility is noticing ways in which you may have set yourself up, but taking the blame is thinking you caused the incident and that’s it your fault – which no matter what the abuse, it’s never your fault.
Remember that what happened was inappropriate and it shouldn’t have happened. Talk to someone, report it, document the incident for your records, and get counseling to help you overcome the potential traumas the incident may have caused.