Harassed at Work? You’re not alone

According to the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, 25%-85% of women report having experienced harassment at work.

You might be thinking “What the fuck”, and you’d be right. 25%-85% is a staggering and varied number. So, let’s break it down.

  1.  This task force was comprised of academics from social science disciplines, employers, employee advocacy groups, legal practitioners (for both plaintiffs and defense), and more. They complied surveys and information, reviewing and studying it for 18 months.
  2. Their report was released in 2016, so it’s up to date and relevant.
  3. The term harassment here refers to, “unwelcome or offensive conduct in the workplace that: (a) is based on sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy, and gender identity), race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, and/or genetic information; and (b) is detrimental to an employee’s work performance, professional advancement, and/or mental health. This includes, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, undue attention, physical assaults or threats, unwelcome touching or contact, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, constant or unwelcome questions about an individual’s identity, and offensive objects or pictures.”

Is it 25%, 85%, or somewhere in between?

These numbers were derived through various survey methods. One model used is called a probability sample, otherwise known as random sampling. The other survey type used is convenience sampling- people that are easy for the researcher to access (students, coworkers, etc.). People in this category, particularly if they are involved in research, might have more insight and understanding regarding the subject of investigation. These two different survey groups make up the numerical spread (25%-85%).

Group 1, the random selection surveys, reported 25% of women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace without the term “sexual harassment” being defined in the survey.

Group 2, the convenience selection surveys, reported 50% of women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace without the term “sexual harassment” being defined in the survey.

Group 1 also reported that 40% of women have experienced unwelcomed sexually-based behaviors, such as coercion or unwanted sexual attention.

In Group 2 that number jumped to 75%, and in one instance 90%.

When using the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire, which includes gender harassment (hostile behavior devoid of sexual interest), Group 1 reported 60% of women as experiencing harassment. Gender harassment aims to insult and put women down, as opposed to coerce them into sexual relationships. Examples can include: name calling, sexist jokes, posting pornographic images, etc.

This research is troubling in many ways. 25%-50% of women acknowledge that they have experienced sexual harassment at work; worse yet, 40%-75% do not even realize that certain unwanted sexual behaviors they are exposed to at work are a form of sexual harassment. Essentially, these women are being harassed at work, and unable to recognize it as illegal, even if they view it as unwanted, offensive, or problematic.

Remember that 25%, 85%, or somewhere in between question? It’s probably higher, more like 100%. And some of us don’t even know it.

35% of people who identify as LGB and “open” at work reported workplace harassment, while 58% of people who identify as LGBT reported work place harassment. Some of this harassment comes in the form of verbal, physical (including sexual assault), and vandalism.
Members of racial minority groups experience more harassment than whites.
Women experience more harassment than men.
If you identify as a non-white woman, you may be harassed based on not only your gender, but your skin color.
If you identify as an LGBT woman, you may be harassed based on your sexual orientation, gender orientation, and ability to “pass as female”.
In other words, you face more discrimination and harassment than straight cis white women, and apparently that is a lot. What’s more troubling is that most gender harassment surveys are based on white women, and most ethnic research on men. Therefore, it is safe to say that anyone who identifies as intersectional is at an even greater known risk, because we have only begun to scratch the surface in terms of research. (Keep in mind certain critics, individuals, and advocacy groups have been arguing this for years.)

It gets worse…

Only 6%-13% of individuals who experience harassment file formal complaints, according to studies. Gender harassment seems to be almost never reported, as physical harassment is reported only 8% of the time. That’s right, Captain Grab Ass is getting away with assault and harassment 92% of the time. Why?
People are afraid of the consequences, whether it is retaliation, a lack of action from the employer, disbelief, or victim blaming- the list goes on. And they have good reason to be afraid. One study found that 75% of employees that spoke out faced retaliation. Sexual harassment, is often faced with indifference on top of retaliation.

Perpetrators of sexual harassment get away with it 92% of the time, due to the fact that women are afraid to report instances out of fear of retaliation.


It gets so much worse….

Remember how many of us don’t recognize that we are being harassed?

Does this mean we are happy and OK in our careers?


Research has also shown that women experience similar negative psychological, professional, and physical consequences whether they recognize they are being sexually harassed or not. Sexual harassment is particularly devastating as it can result in PTSD, self-blame, exhaustion, substance abuse, and more. There’s a litany of physical effects too: insomnia, headaches, nausea, etc. So even if you do not consciously recognize the abuse, your body and mind still do, and you are being negatively affected by it. Oh, and it effects more than just the victim. Research shows that employees who witness harassment suffer similar health effects.

Harassment effects victims and witnesses alike, causing psychological and physiological damage.

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So it’s 2017. 100% of the women you know have probably faced some sort of harassment at work, whether they know it or not, and 92% of them are probably too afraid to report it out of fear of retaliation. Where the fuck does this leave us? What do we do if we recognize harassment? Honestly, that is an article entirely on its own….
Legally, we are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. There is a guide to filing a complaint on their website:


Beyond that, a few other websites recommend the following:
Keep Detailed Records- include dates, times, locations, memos, notes, and witnesses as they relate to the harassing occurrence
Gather your evidence- texts, emails, phone records, etc.
File the Claim as Soon as Possible- some states allow for 180 days from the last incident to report/ file your claim.

The best thing we can do for each other on a personal level is support each other. If you see harassment, and are able to without threat of retaliation, let someone know. If you’re being harassed start reaching out to friends and colleagues. Even though it is scary, speak up and report it.

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