Confronting, preventing workplace sexual harassment

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First, thank you to the many Community Against Violence supporters who called in during CAV’s 15th annual radiothon on 101.9 KTAO-FM last week. We surpassed our on-air goal of $75,000, which is about halfway to our year’s local fundraising goal. This amazing community support goes a long way toward helping CAV receive grants so we can keep improving services and work toward ending domestic and sexual violence and child abuse. If you did not get a chance to call in last week, please stop by CAV (945 Salazar Road), call (575) 758-8082 or visit TaosCAV.org to make your pledge.

This week, workplace sexual harassment and sexual violence are in the news with the revelations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted dozens of women connected to the film business. Workplace sexual assault and sexual harassment are common. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates there are more than 43,000 workplace rapes and sexual assaults each year. But experts say these crimes are underreported because victims are afraid or discouraged from coming forward.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as harassing “a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” The harasser does not have to be the victim’s boss; it can also be a co-worker, a client, customer or a supervisor from another area. If someone touches you sexually at work – even over your clothes – without consent, it is sexual assault. Sexual harassment includes inappropriate remarks and sexual violence:

• Making conditions of employment dependent on sexual favors.

• Physical acts of sexual assault.

• Requests for sexual favors.

• Verbal harassment of a sexual nature.

• Unwanted touching or physical contact.

• Unwelcome sexual advances.

Many victims are afraid of retaliation at work if they report. Victims include many hotel cleaning staff and restaurant workers, who may be undocumented. Laws against workplace sexual harassment are supposed to protect undocumented workers. These workers are often afraid to come forward because they do not want to lose their jobs or draw immigration officials’ attention.

In a perfect world, victims would not be afraid to report sexual harassment or assault. If you’re a victim of workplace harassment and feel empowered to act, the first thing to do is to tell the person that what they said or did was inappropriate and must stop. If touching is involved, report it immediately and make a police report. If that doesn’t work, the next step is to go to that person’s supervisor or the human resources department. Of course, this is way easier said than done. Coming forward in many workplaces will endanger the victim’s job or prospects for good shifts, enough hours or promotions. Too many workplaces deal with reports of sexual wrongdoing by getting rid of the victim or cutting or changing her/his hours, with nothing happening to the perpetrator.

Always make written notes about the who, what, where and when of the harassment to show the pattern. In any type of sexual assault, most perpetrators have multiple victims. Your report may not be the first. You may also want to talk to a lawyer to learn about your rights.

If you or someone you love has been a victim – at work or elsewhere – CAV provides free counseling and support, whether the victim chooses to report or not.

Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc., which offers free confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; counseling; shelter; transitional housing; and community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV’s 24-hour crisis line at (575)758-9888 or visit TaosCAV.org.

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