During this year’s fiercely contested political campaigns, the issue of sexual harassment found its way into the spotlight on multiple occasions. In the November 2 article “Why Sexual Harassment Persists in Politics,” the New York Times reported that “experts in employment law and advocates of women’s rights claim that there are specific reasons that harassment can flourish in politics.” The article goes on to assert that “at its core, sexual harassment is about power, and politics is the ultimate power profession. It draws in young people who are eager to advance and reluctant to make waves. And political organizations rise and fall around the fortunes of one central figure, a hierarchy that discourages reporting of harassment, because if the boss gets in trouble, everyone’s job is at risk.”
We disagree with this article on one point: The author says that sexual harassment is about gaining power; that is not completely true. Sexual harassment is about the attempt to assert control; the use of control to boost one’s own belief of poor self-worth or to salve one’s own insecurities and feelings of inferiority at the expense of another.
Based on our own experience and hundreds of depositions from workplace harassers of all stripes, we have found that harassment typically does not come from those who are secure in their power, but instead from those who do not have power they desire – it is a small person’s attempt to control that which they cannot or should not control.
A 2014 Pew study suggests that harassment of women has its roots in evolution and is borne out of men’s insecurities. Upon asking participants to play an online video game, researchers discovered that poor-performing male players were more aggressive towards their female counterparts (but not the males), and that they became “less nasty as their performance improved.” The Pew team concluded that these results supported an “evolutionary argument for why low-status, low-performing males are hostile towards female competitors” and that “higher-skilled (i.e. more dominant) males do not behave in [an aggressive] manner as there is no need for them to reinforce their dominance.”
Women need to be aware that sexual harassment can occur at any level of an organization. As difficult as it can be to prove and ultimately win a sexual harassment case, it‘s important to take action.
If you feel that you are being sexually harassed at work, consider the following measures:
- Report the harassment to the relevant authorities at work as soon as possible.
- If you are offered any positions in exchange for sexual favors, document the details, including the time and place as well as any witnesses present.
- Store your notes in a safe place where no one else can access them.
- Consolidate all your evidence so that you can build a case if you decide to file a suit. This includes documentation of comments and statements you have received as well as any video or audio recordings.
- If no action is taken at work, report your case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Consider seeking a job at another organization, as sexual harassment is rarely an isolated incident.
Reporting sexual harassment at work can prevent other victims from having to go through the same thing … and remember, it’s not about power. For more information, visit the EEOC’s Facts About Sexual Harassment page.