Pervasive as sexual harassment seems to be, it’s nothing new. What’s changed is that more people are willing to discuss and confront it.
Even Congress, which rivals turtles, molasses and glaciers in terms of rapid response, is acting. (See: “Congressional leaders call for sexual harassment training,” Nov. 5 Times-News, Page 2A.)
Power and prestige carry a measure of impunity. Sexual harassment has been almost traditional in Congress and other institutions that historically have been dominated by men (which is virtually all of them — including, especially, the entertainment industry), and for the most part overlooked.
Ask your favorite search engine to look for “political sex scandals” and stand by to be astounded.
What is acceptable behavior and what is sexual harassment?
Patting someone’s rump and making a suggestion that can’t be repeated here is easily recognizable as sexual harassment. But does patting someone on the back and saying, “Good job” constitute sexual harassment? It might.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says this:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including these:
• The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
• The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a non-employee.
• The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
• Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
• The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
EEOC says the victim should tell the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If that doesn’t work, the victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.
EEOC offers these examples of sexual harassment:
• Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.
• Unwanted pressure for sexual favors. Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering or pinching. Unwanted sexual looks or gestures. Unwanted letters, telephone calls or materials of a sexual nature. Unwanted and unrelenting pressure for dates with someone who is not interested. Giving personal gifts.
• Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey. Whistling. Cat calls. Kissing sounds, howling and smacking lips. Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements. Facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses or licking lips. Sexually suggestive signals.
• Turning work discussions to sexual topics. Sexual teasing, jokes, innuendos or stories. Asking personal questions about social or sexual life. Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences or history. Making sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy or looks. Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person’s sex life.
• Neck or shoulder massage. Touching an employee’s clothing, hair or body. Hugging, kissing, patting or stroking. Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person. Standing close or brushing up against a person.
• Hanging around a person. Looking a person up and down (elevator eyes). Staring at someone. Blocking a person’s path. Following the person.
Our advice is far simpler and consists of a couple of do’s, rather than a long list of don’ts:
Use common sense and treat other people with respect, the way you would want to be treated — like a human being, rather than an object of potential gratification.
How would it feel if it happened to you?