Sexual harassment is not confined to any class or profession. It can happen anywhere: where you live, work or study.
Sexual harassment may be an expression of power or desire or both. Whether it is from supervisors, peers or landlords, sexual harassment is an assertion of one person's will over another person.
Sexual harassment is any practice of a sexual nature that puts at risk a person's study, work or living environment, negatively affects work or study performance, or undermines an individual's sense of personal dignity.
Harassing behaviour may manifest itself blatantly in forms such as leering, or even sexual assault. More subtle forms include sexual innuendos, taunts and repeated propositions for dates.
Though both men and women can and do harass, and there are cases of men who have been sexually harassed, the majority of reported cases are of women who have been harassed by men. Stereotypes of women's roles prevalent in the workplace, in academia and in society in general, play a large part in maintaining these trends.
Even as women's roles change in every aspect of society, harassment continues to occur. Whether supervisor, professor or student, we all need to understand sexual harassment better so that we can continue to address it effectively.
The federal government and the provinces and territories all have provisions in their human rights legislation prohibiting sexual harassment in employment, and in the provision of services and accommodation. These are either specific provisions, or included in the general prohibition relating to sex discrimination.
According to case law, (decisions that the courts have made which set guidelines for new cases) the term 'sexual harassment' may cover two types of situations. The first involves the solicitation of sexual favours in exchange for rewards or under the threat of punishment. The second relates to the creation of an atmosphere "poisoned" by sexual innuendo or gender-based conduct, without necessarily involving a direct link with the provision of sexual favours, or being directed at any one person in particular.
Harassment is defined as behaviour or comments that are unwelcome and that the harasser knows or should know are unwelcome. Behaviour can be called harassment whether it happens once or many times. After you tell a harasser to stop, he cannot claim that he thought you didn't mind. Even if you do not speak up, the behaviour may still be seen as harassment if it is felt that a reasonable person would know it was harassment. A case will be stronger, however, if you make it clear to the harasser that the behaviour is unwelcome.
You may have been harassed at work, in your residence or in your academic environment for weeks or months. You may be facing harassment for the first time. Maybe someone or something is making you feel uncomfortable, but you aren't sure if it is harassment or not. What should you do? You do have choices about how to deal with sexual harassment. Outlined below are some of the personal strategies you can follow.
Trust your instincts. If something makes you uncomfortable, there is a reason. Not every comment or act is going to turn into ongoing harassment against you. You may want to see if it happens again, or check to see if it has happened to someone else, but don't ignore your feelings.
Talk to someone you trust. If you are feeling unsure and worried, or you think you might be imagining the harassment, or you think that you are somehow the cause of the harassment, talk to a friend or colleague you trust.
Seek out support. You do not have to deal with harassment alone. At queen's either the Student Counselling Service, or the Employee Assistance Program, can provide you with personal support to help you sort through your feelings about what is happening to you. Also, the Human Rights Office can offer advice to help you sort out whether what is happening to you is indeed harassment, and with steps you may wish to take to address the issue.
Learn about your options. Find out everything you can about the policies in your institution. The better informed you are, the better you will be able to deal with the situation and to decide what to do in an informed way. You need to put a name to what is happening, and you need to know your rights and your options for action. Think about what you need. Don't let anyone push you into doing something that doesn't feel right to you. At Queen's, the Human Rights Office can give you information about the Queen's policy and what courses of action are available to you. The Ontario Human Rights Commission can help you with legal advice with respect to sexual harassment.
Record incident in detail. It is very important to keep track of the incidents of harassment you experience, and the steps you have taken to stop it. Exact details will help you should you decide to take action, and may help to show a pattern of harassment that might otherwise be missed.
Some people keep a journal of incidents. It is best to use a bound notebook so that the pages cannot be added or the order of the pages changed. Write down everything that you remember, including dates, places, times, details, names of witnesses, and your emotional or physical reactions to the incidents. Make dated entries in the journal outlining each step you take to attempt to stop the harassment.
If you know of others who are experiencing harassment, or have in the past, ask about the support they might be willing to give should you decide to take action.
Also, keep anything that the harasser gives you. This includes letters, memos, gifts, drawings, e-mails, taped messages on an answering machine. These can all be important evidence of harassment.
Keep copies of any evaluations and memos about your work or academic progress. The harasser may claim that you are just unhappy about not getting good marks, or a position or promotion. A harasser may start to criticize your work or look for a reason not to offer you a position or passing marks. This will be more difficult to do if you have written proof that your past record has been good.
All these records can help you later on. They will help you see where your case is strong and where it is weak. They will help you keep facts straight and may help others to more quickly act on your concerns.
Take care of yourself. Harassment can make you feel bad physically and emotionally. It makes it hard to do your work and to study. You may be too afraid of failing grades, or losing your job to concentrate. You may be worried about what will happen to you. You may not feel ready to deal with the harasser.
If you choose not to speak up directly to the harasser, it is doubly important to take care of yourself. Harassment affects more than your work or academic life, it also affects your relationships and your health. Make sure you continue to eat well and exercise. Talk to your doctor honestly about what is happening to you. Do find a way to relieve stress, and find a counselor who can help you express your feelings and cope with whatever you decide to do.
If possible, let the harasser know in clear terms about your objections. In almost all instances of harassment, the behaviour does not go away on its own. You will likely have to take some action. You may choose to confront the harasser yourself either verbally, or in writing. In either case it is best to take someone with you when you deliver the message. There will be a witness, and the person cannot later claim that he did not know he was bothering you.
Letting the harasser know verbally about your objections to his behaviour. Speak calmly to the harasser. Give him a chance to understand and change his behaviour. Think about what you want to say. Be clear and specific. Use words that you are comfortable with. Do not allow him to coerce you into talking about details you do not wish to discuss. State clearly the behaviour you object to. You do not need to explain why you object; you objection alone is enough to convey that he should stop. If he keeps asking for explanations, just repeat that you object to the behaviour and that you want it to stop.
If you choose to write to the harasser here are some guidelines to follow. Write a clear description of the behaviour you don't like. Don't exaggerate. Stick to what you know. Don't talk about his feelings or intentions or motives. If you want, you can add what you plan to do if the behaviour does not stop. You don't need to send a copy of the letter to anyone else at this point. Keep a copy of it. You may wish to ask someone to write the letter with you if keeping the emotions out of it is difficult.