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First Experience with Sexual Harassment

By Peter Levine posted in Law, Sexual Harassment on September 4th, 2013

Heather Huhman was just 15 when she first experienced and reported harassment from a co-worker.

Though the co-worker was ultimately fired, she endured the conduct for several months after she reported it – waiting for her complaint to go up the chain of command.

Though many Americans are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, many don’t report it for fear of retaliation or worries their co-workers will make them feel ashamed.

Thirteen percent of respondents to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll reported having been sexually harassed by a boss or another superior. Nineteen percent have been harassed by a co-worker other than a boss or superior. A full 70 percent said they never reported it.

Indeed, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received about 7,500 charges of workplace sexual harassment in 2012 — the actual number of people who have experienced sexual harassment at work is probably much higher, according to Fatima Goss Graves from the National Women’s Law Center.

“It’s a tough situation. You don’t necessarily want to take on the hassle, expense and personal costs that are involved,” Graves said.

Harassment Often Goes Unreported

Victims often don’t report the harassment, Graves said, out of concern that they’ll be made to feel they’re somehow to blame for any unwelcome advances and because the various routes to complain are hard to navigate. In addition, fear of retaliation is a “legitimate” concern.

The HuffPost poll found that one in five women said they’d been harassed by a boss, and one in four said they had been harassed by another coworker. Although less likely, men also reported being sexually harassed — 6 percent said they were harassed by a boss and 14 percent by a coworker.

In addition, 21 percent of respondents to the poll said that they had witnessed someone else being sexually harassed at work. But among those who had, only 33 percent said that they had reported it.

Though many companies have education programs aimed at preventing sexual harassment and policies in place to deal with it after the fact, there’s still a long way to go before the behavior is truly viewed as unacceptable by all workers on the ground.

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