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Health Resource Center

Violence and Abuse

What You Can Do If You Are Sexually Harassed

Every instance of sexual harassment is different. The way you choose to respond will depend on many factors. For example, in the workplace you need to consider how much you can afford to risk losing your job and whether you feel you can get support from your co-workers. Race and class differences may also affect how you respond, partly because these differences in a workplace can isolate workers from one another. As you think about whether and how you might respond to sexual harassment, here are some things to consider:

  • The specific legal options for sexual harassment include filing charges of sex discrimination with your state's human rights commission or the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In addition, women have used unemployment compensation, civil or criminal assault, rape laws, union grievance procedures, and workers' compensation. Students have used the federal law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

  • Remember that you are not to blame. Sexual harassment is imposed sexual attention. You have a right to a work environment that is free from sexual harassment. No matter how complicated the situation is, the harasser is responsible for the abuse.

  • Document what happens. Keep a detailed diary including dates, times, and places. Save any notes or pictures from the harasseródon't throw them away in anger. Keep a record of anyone who witnessed the harassment.

  • Investigate your workplace or school policy and grievance procedure for sexual harassment cases. Know its overall records before you act.

  • Generate support for yourself before you take action: Break the silence, talk with others, and ask for help in working out a response.

  • Look for others who have been harassed who can act with you. Collective action and joint complaints strengthen your position. Try to use organizations that already exist, such as your union or employee organization, or an advocacy organization for your particular racial or ethnic group.

  • Let the harasser know as directly and explicitly as possible that you are not interested in his or her attentions. If you do this in writing, keep a copy of your letter.

Written by: Margaret Lazarus with Renner Wunderlich, Diane Rosenfeld, and Stacey Kabat.
Last revised: March 2005

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