The most common type of harassment is sexual, although you can also be harassed based on your race, national origin, or any other protected characteristic.
Sexual harassment can include such conduct as unwelcome sexual advances, threats, vulgar or suggestive language, offensive visual images (pornography, swimsuit calendars, dirty emails), physical assaults, or even more generally “mean” behavior–so long as the behavior would not have been directed at you if you were of the opposite sex.
Courts have become more and more demanding about how severe and frequent behavior has to be in order to qualify as illegal “sexual harassment.” It would surprise most people to know that women today are expected to put up with workplace conduct that would have been unquestionably illegal fifteen years ago. This sort of “legislating from the bench” by “conservative” judges appointed by “conservative” Presidents is largely hidden from the general public.
Research (and real life experience) shows that sexual harassment of women is extremely common. Although men are sexually harassed, that is much rarer. Sexual harassment is among the leading causes of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among American women. Different women react differently to harassment, and how deeply they are affected depends in large part on the employer’s response when they report it. Of course, the vast majority of women never file any sort of a complaint regarding sexual harassment.
It is important to work up the courage to complain to your employer about the harassment and to keep complaining, even if it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. Complain to your supervisor, your supervisor’s boss, to Human Resources, and to any corporate hot-line. Reports in writing are best, particularly via e-mail because that will make a record of the dates and times you complained. Make copies of your complaints and keep them at home. Under some circumstances, your employer may end up being able to escape legal responsibility for the harassment if you cannot prove you reported it.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment, get advice from someone you trust and who has the experience to help you navigate the situation. Unfortunately, retaliation is still the most common employer response to a sexual harassment complaint. A qualified attorney can help you lessen your chances of being retaliated against.