6 Sexual Harassment Facts and Myths in the Workplace

Sexual harassment includes unwanted and unwelcome remarks, behaviour, and physical contact of a sexual nature. While most victims are women, men are also affected. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is very much present in the workplace, even as people are getting more and more educated about it.

The act of sexual harassment is broad, but you may be treading on dangerous territory if the person targeted is left feeling humiliated or offended. Gestures such as making a dirty joke about a co-worker of the opposite sex can be considered an act of sexual harassment.

If you have some questions about sexual harassment or if you want to learn more about how it can negatively impact the lives of the victims, these sexual harassment facts are for you.

Fact: 31% of female employees have experienced sexual harassment at work.

It’s estimated that 31% of women employees claim to have been sexually harassed at work, while 7% of men employees claim the same. However, those numbers might not reflect reality, since a lot of victims of sexual harassment choose to not speak up about what has happened to them.

Many victims of sexual harassment choose to not speak up for different reasons. When sexual harassment happens at work, the harasser can be someone in a position of authority. Victims are often afraid that speaking up will compromise their career, so they decide to remain silent.

Myth: Only women are the victims of sexual harassment.

Even though most victims of sexual harassment are women, and their harassers are men, men can also be victims. Almost half of the men who claim to have been sexually harassed are saying their harasser was another man. Sexual harassment is often a way for someone to control someone else, to humiliate them and to abuse them.

It is important to note that sexual harassment, just like sexual assault and many other issues, is rooted in gender inequality. When a man believes, consciously or not, that women are inferior and that he has the right to control them, he will see nothing wrong with making rude comments about their appearance, or with touching them without their consent.

Fact: Sexual harassment in the workplace can be prevented.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be prevented when employers have clear policies regarding sexual harassment. Since many employees are not aware that what they are doing is harmful, they need to be educated and to be told that their behaviour will not be tolerated anymore.

Most victims are not aware of the policies of their employer regarding sexual harassment, and they have no idea of how they can report an incident and make it stop. Since they don’t know who they can turn to, they will often choose to not say a thing to anyone. It is the company’s responsibility to educate employees about workplace harassment policies through training programs.

Myth: People always support and believe the victims of sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, it is frequent for people to blame victims of sexual harassment more than they blame the harassers. They will either not believe women or men who choose to bravely speak up, or they will blame them for what has happened to them, saying they should have been wearing different clothes, or behaving differently.

Victim-blaming can have devastating consequences for the victims of sexual harassment. They can be led to believe that what happened was their fault, or that they deserved it. They can also end up thinking that the situation wasn’t such a big deal after all, and that they were simply overreacting to something harmless. This is wrong, and unfair, as only the harasser is responsible for what they have done.

Fact: Sexual harassment can happen any time to anybody.

Sexual harassment can occur anywhere, even on the Internet. Teenagers and young women are more likely to get harassed online in the form of rude and unwanted comments, and even threats. Victims can feel stressed out, overwhelmed, and in the most serious cases, they can turn to self-harm or suicide.

Any case of sexual harassment can make more than one victim. Anyone who is witnessing the harassment and is offended or uncomfortable can also be considered a victim. And just like the direct victims, witnesses often choose to not speak up about what happened.

In some cases, the victim clearly informing their harasser that their sexual advances or offensive remarks are not welcome is enough to resolve the situation. In other cases, however, the harasser will threaten to fire their victim if they speak up, or if they keep refusing their sexual advances.

Myth: People are widely informed about the nature of sexual harassment.

It’s estimated that only 1 in 3 Canadians understands what sexual consent is. This means that a lot of people who sexually harass others probably don’t even understand that what they are doing is wrong. They choose to assume their victims are saying “yes” even if they are saying “no”. For this reason, education about sexual consent and harassment is so important.

Fortunately, more and more people are becoming aware of this issue, and want to act to stop sexual harassment in and out of the workplace. By raising awareness about the importance of consent and by speaking out against victim-blaming, everyone can do their part to help prevent and stop sexual harassment.