How to deal with sexual harassment

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is something that is unacceptable, yet it occurs often in our everyday lives. It can be difficult dealing with cases of sexual harassment, especially if it involves your superiors. So here are a couple of tips on how you can handle these kinds of situations.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes any behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable such as unwelcome sexual jokes, whistling, rude gestures, touching, requests for sex, unwanted questions about your sex life and being stared at in an offensive way. Basically, it includes any unwelcome advances and verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.

How can you handle a situation where you’ve been sexually harassed?

Start by talking to the perpetrator

Whether it’s your colleague, friend or lecturer, you need to talk to the person that is harassing you. Once this type of behaviour starts, it will often continue if it’s not stopped. Tell them that what they are doing is making you feel uncomfortable and that it is highly inappropriate.

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching them by yourself, ask a trusted friend or colleague to accompany you or to talk to them on your behalf. You can also send an email asking them to stop, but make sure to keep a copy of it to show the higher ups just in case.

Gather evidence

If you’ve talked to the person and they’re still giving you issues, you should look at making a formal complaint. You can start by gathering evidence to back your claims. Write down the time and date that the incidents took place.

Save any inappropriate emails, WhatsApp messages or texts that they might have sent you. You can also try and use your phone to record any remarks that they make. Make sure to also keep a list of witnesses and others who have experienced the same inappropriate behaviour.

Lodge a complaint

A lot of the time you’ll find that people don’t formally lodge complaints because they are too scared – scared of losing their jobs, friends or high marks. If this is happening in the workplace, you are protected by the Labour Relations Act, which defines what sexual harassment is and suggests ways of handling it.

Even if this is occurring at your university, each institution has codes and guidelines on how to handle these types of cases. Make sure that you read up on them and on the systems that you need to follow to make a formal complaint.

It’s not always easy speaking out against sexual harassment, but it’s better than standing by and letting this behaviour slide. This way at least more people will know just how inappropriate it is.


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