It’s a sad state of affairs when a hashtag attached to personal stories of sexual assault is the top trending story on social media. It’s trending now because many female celebrities and other well-known women have had enough, and in the light of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior over the past 30 years, are now emboldened to share their stories, one after the other. Some experienced sexual harassment and abuse when they were children, teens, and young women just trying to get a start in a career that they were passionate about.
However, we know that Harvey Weinstein and his victims are not alone. In addition to the extraordinarily well-known women who were victimized, this happens every day in offices, communities, stores, and yes, houses of worship. Almost anywhere you go, there’s a possibility that you will be ogled, up-skirted, rated, disrespected, become someone’s fantasy (other than someone who’s fantasy you might want to be), assaulted, touched inappropriately, raped or more.
Anyone who has experienced this doesn’t forget. Despite the mindset that “it’s just locker room talk”, or other worthless excuses that a perpetrator might offer, this behavior is wrong, plain and simple. And while it may be difficult for victims to really grasp what happened in a moment when they were caught by surprise, here are few points to remember: It is NOT your fault that someone else is unable to control him or herself. You are NOT to blame because of someone else’s inability to develop or sustain relationships based on qualities that they should possess as a mature, respectful and considerate person. You are NOT defined by someone else’s behavioral choices.
I don’t have the answer to how to resolve every situation, but there’s a great article by Chelsea Levinson on Levo.com that helps explain the process of dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. Her interview with Nina Frank, an attorney who handles employee-based harassment cases at the Outten Golden law firm in NY, lays out the situation and the legal options to be considered if you find yourself in that situation. You can read it here.
For employers, there are HR consultants and legal firms and that can guide you in effectively dealing with workplace harassment (I can vouch for Helios HR in Reston, VA). It’s critical that this kind of behavior be addressed and extinguished from the workplace immediately. To say that you didn’t know is not an excuse; you will be accountable for what you should have known.