Fighting Harassment at School and Work
By Staff Writers
Published on September 21, 2021
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Strategies for Combatting Harassment
Harassment: it’s an issue that causes concern and despite counter-efforts, continues to demands attention. Victims may feel ashamed and alone, but statistics show they’re not. In 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported more than 28,000 racial discrimination charges and more than 25,000 related to sex. Other types of harassment, such as those that target age, disabilities or gender expression, occur regularly, too. Harassment at work or school can be particularly rough, since these environments are part of people’s everyday lives. Learn more about why harassment is so pervasive, understand the laws and students rights on campus when it comes to harassment, and get solutions if you’re facing harassment at work and on campus below.
Harassment has both physical and emotional effects. Some 48 percent of middle and high school reported being targets of sexual harassment, with many not wanting to go to school, feeling physically ill, and having trouble studying and sleeping, according to 2011 study results reported by the American Association of University Women.
Legal Definitions and Types of Harassment
Most people know when they feel violated, but giving it a formal definition is a lot harder—and knowing what to do about it can be even tougher. Victims may understandably feel reluctant to take the next step to report harassment and prevent future occurrences. But understanding different types of harassment, and how the law views various circumstances can be empowering. Take a look at some of the legal definitions below if you’re dealing with harassment at work or school.
This is generally a type of criminal harassment. Examples include when a school or workplace denies a person’s right to reasonable accommodations, or allows abusive or derogatory comments about a person to persist. These create a hostile environment and can be considered harassment.
Civil harassment is as valid as criminal harassment, but is defined differently because it falls outside federal or state laws that protect certain classes. For instance, somebody being degraded at work because of their clothes (as long as the clothes are not tied to their religion or ethnicity) could claim civil harassment.
Retaliation can occur when somebody speaks out about harassment or other perceived injustices. The person who speaks out may experience various types of punishment, like harsher job duties, reduced shifts and abuse from coworkers or peers. While victims are technically protected from retaliation, it can be difficult to prove and enforce, so many people will experience it anyway.
This term, which means “something for something,” describes expectations put on someone in exchange for something else, which in some cases can be illegal. For example, a common example of quid pro quo harassment is a work superior offering a promotion in exchange for sexual favors; however, quid pro quo is not always of a sexual nature.
Certain classes and characteristics—including race, national origin, color, religion, sex, age or disability—are protected against harassment under federal law. Violations that occur specifically based on these categories are considered instances of criminal harassment.
Sexual harassment falls under civil harassment and includes any harassment based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or pregnancy status.
Is it Harassment, or Just Bad Behavior?
Harassment is so ingrained in our culture, from showing admiration to womanizing protagonists of old Hollywood movies to exchanging crude jokes as a way of showing camaraderie, that the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior can be blurry. Many argue that if it feels like harassment, it probably is, but social practices–and the law–don’t always agree. However, a growing awareness of the problem is leading to victims of harassment to be more outspoken, and making it easier for businesses and organizations to make concrete efforts to address harassment through stronger policies.
The popularity of the movement against this dismissive explanation is apparent in everything from t-shirt campaigns to pop songs confronting assault. Even scientific research is pointing to changing cultural norms that allow this common phrase to excuse boys and men for destructive, violent or other bad behaviors. Psychologists suggest that teaching all children to be both masculine and feminine instead of “masculine vs. feminine” could alleviate some harassment problems.
In the aftermath of high-profile charges of sexual harassment against celebrities and power brokers in multiple industries, the #MeToo campaign has brought viral awareness to the prevalence of harassment problems. Many other social media movements have helped bring to light different types of harassment and social issues, creating solidarity among victims and serving as a talking point and starting point for organized protest. #WhatAboutUs, #BlackLivesMatter and #YesAllWomen have had significant national reach, but hashtag activism can be useful in sparking smaller movements, too.
Pinups used to line the walls at many male-dominated workplaces, but in the early 2000s, courts ruled that displaying photos of naked or nearly-naked women was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. However, “good ol’ boys” environments still exist, as pointed out in a recent Q&A with business coach and consultant Liz Reyer, who suggests how to break “boys club” culture at work.
Governments and organizations are trying to crack down on street harassment. France is considering catcall bans, and activists in New York City have put up “No Catcall Zone” signs around the city. While such campaigns meet with varying degrees of success, they do serve to keep the spotlight on how such behavior is often accepted in society despite its offensive nature.
Young students often have to deal with strict dress codes on campus, and many are fighting to change outdated, sexist policies and ideologies these codes uphold. Female students hear that their collarbones and shoulders are distracting, and some dress code verbiage insists that dresses and skirts are for girls only. Movements include hashtag campaigns, like #BowsForBoys and #IAmNotADistraction, to students deliberately breaking dress codes to make a point against being punished or shamed for clothing choices.
Generally speaking, in order for something to be considered harassment, the abuse must be ongoing and severe. However, a 2017 ruling determined that the situation need not be “severe and pervasive” but could be either severe or pervasive to be considered harassment. This means that in certain circumstances, like in work environments with clear power imbalances, a single slur could be considered harassment against an employee or co-worker. The ruling builds on other court decisions that upended previous precedents and granted stronger grounds for harassed employees to complain, and to be protected from retaliation.
Behavior You Might Not Think Is Harassment, That Actually Is
- Snapping a girl’s bra straps to get her attention, intimidate or flirt with her.
Whether it’s done to pick on someone or flirt, this common form of physical harassment often happens in schools.
- Making race-based jokes or comments around your friends of that race.
This is so common it’s often referred to as everyday bigotry; your friends may seem to laugh it off, but it still may qualify as harassment.
- Repeatedly asking to get coffee or lunch.
You may want to get to know a classmate or co-worker better, either in a romantic or platonic way, but badgering that person for a date or get-together after they’ve turned you down is grounds for sexual harassment. One law firm suggests a “one strike and you’re out” rule—don’t ask again if a co-worker has said “no thanks”.
- “Stirring the pot” at work.
Participating in political discussions or conversations about hot-button issues to deliberately get a rise out of someone, especially if the issue in question directly affects that person (e.g., telling your transgender co-worker that you think that gender-neutral bathrooms are unnecessary) makes for a hostile work environment.
- Lingering when giving hugs or handshakes, or giving unwelcome kisses.
While some people are not bothered by a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or a touch to the shoulder, arm or back, others find this physical contact unwelcome and unwanted.
- Imitating friends, classmates or coworkers by evoking an accent.
Like making race-based jokes, to caricature people by using a fake accent can be harassment falling under National Origin Discrimination, even if it’s not intended to be hateful.
- Giving unprompted wardrobe advice.
Whether intended to be helpful or passive-aggressive, suggesting a person dress or do their hair and makeup differently can be viewed variously as a sexual advance or an attack on their race, culture, gender or income level. Unless someone explicitly asks for your opinion, keep it to yourself.
- Gossiping and spreading rumors about someone.
Schools and workplaces can be so filled with gossip that it may seem harmless; however, gossip and rumors can affect a person’s ability to feel safe, welcomed and productive. Gossiping can be considered harassment.
- Making sexual jokes or innuendo.
Many types of harassment stem from jokes, but you shouldn’t assume that everyone has the same sense of humor. Sexual jokes and references can be offensive or uncomfortable, dredge up past traumatic experiences, and highlight disparities between people of different sexes and genders, and a 2017 New York Times survey shows these jokes are the most prevalent type of harassing behavior men participate in at work.
- Openly displaying offensive or derogatory materials.
Putting in plain sight pictures or literature that make people feel unwelcome or unsafe–like pornographic photos, pamphlets promoting religion or anything that suggest an inferiority of certain races, religions, genders, sexual orientations and identities or cultures–creates a hostile environment and may be construed as harassment.
- Exploiting customer-worker power imbalance.
“The customer is always right” is a common phrase in workplaces, but it isn’t true. Workers often feel powerless when customers harass them, because they feel that speaking out could cause a scene or risk their job. However, if a customer harasses an employee, the employer is required to investigate and resolve the situation.
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Addressing Harassment in the Workplace
Harassment at work is prevalent and can be tough to combat. Being informed and prepared can help employees dealing with harassment recognize their rights and take action when needed. In some work environments, harassment may seem easy to brush off as playful camaraderie or “playing the game”, but it is no less serious than more direct, explicit bullying. Negative actions are often prompted by a harasser’s feelings of fear, disrespect or entitlement, but no matter the reasons, the only way to end workplace harassment is to properly address it.
While many people experience harassment at work, very few report incidents to their superiors. Nearly a third of the 90,000 discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015 related specifically to workplace harassment, yet only one in four employees talked to a higher-up about their harassment experience.
The Culture Of Workplace Harassment
Workplace harassment cases are thrust into the media spotlight every few years and span every industry, from the auto-makers of the Midwest to Hollywood’s biggest entertainers. Even so, workplace harassment is an issue that continually lingers. We explore some of the possible reasons why harassment culture is hard to change, with resources to help make progress below.
Even when complaints are sent to the human resources department, a company’s CEO(s) may never be informed about an issue.
Moreover, top management may ignore or excuse the problem among themselves. However, the ability to hold a CEO or company executive accountable may be the difference in proving whether or not a victim can legally claim a hostile work environment.
- AllVoicesThis web platform gives victims of workplace harassment and discrimination a way to anonymously report their experiences directly to company executives and board members.
- Safety @ WorkDeveloped by Mogul, Safety @ Work allows users to report sexual harassment anonymously. The reports are sent to the user’s HR department to be investigated.
The workplace doesn’t have a formal HR department or harassment policy.
Some companies lack departments dedicated to helping employees stay safe and informed of workplace policies and procedures. Likewise, not all workplaces have formal harassment policies in place, which can make identifying and reporting harassment incidents a confusing process. When harassment is clearly defined, more people report it.
- BravelyBravely connects employees with HR professionals to help them prepare for stressful situations and conversations in the workplace, including confronting harassment. This is a great resource for people in companies without a formal HR department to consult.
- Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionEmployees can choose to file a claim directly with the EEOC. However, it’s important to remember that in order to have a strong case, employees must prove their employer or CEO was made aware of the harassment.
- How to Report Sexual Harassment at Work When You Can't Go to Your Boss or HRThis article from Bustle.com provides some steps employees can take if they are harassed at a workplace with no HR department. While the article focuses on sexual harassment, many of the steps apply to other types of harassment as well.
- State Fair Employment Practices AgenciesSimilar to the EEOC, employees can file complaints through their state FEPA, which handles local employment laws; they may also file a dual complaint with their FEPA and the EEOC.
- Sexual Harassment Policy and ProcedureIf a workplace does not have a clearly defined harassment policy, employees can suggest implementing one. This example of a pre-drafted policy can be tailored to fit a specific workplace, depending on state and local laws.
Lack of workplace diversity limits solidarity between employees and makes confronting harassment difficult.
Many workplaces struggle to foster diversity among their employees. Minority employees may have few co-workers who can understand their position and provide empathy and solidarity, and if they experience harassment they may have a particularly difficult time convincing others to care about the issue.
- LGBTQ Professional and Student AssociationsFind many associations that can connect LGBTQ+ students and professionals with one another here. Members can share their experiences and resources to help each other navigate harassment issues.
- Minority Professional Organization DirectoryThis list of organizations caters to various minority groups; they offer employees a way to network with other professionals of similar backgrounds, who may have faced comparable experiences.
- Secular Coalition for AmericaA group dedicated to helping victims of discrimination based on personal and religious beliefs, the Secular Coalition for America assists with many facets of harassment in addition to employment and workplace discrimination.
Harassment training is not required or is not comprehensive.
While requiring all employees to complete harassment training can go a long way toward both protecting employees from harassment and safeguarding companies against claims, it’s not uncommon for high-ranking employees to skip out on training or employees to simply brush off or rush through training exercises. In some instances, even when everyone does attend training, the classes aren’t in-depth enough or don’t cover a wide range of issues, though some states are adopting requirements to include the harassment of queer or gender-nonconforming employees.
- Contact Your LegislatorsStates are often responsible for creating laws on what must be included in workplace harassment training and how often it must be done, if at all. Look up your state legislators contact information here, and start a grassroots movement to bolster harassment training requirements.
- EEOC Harassment Information for Small BusinessesSmall business owners and employees can find help in this information provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Employee HandbooksResources like this can help employees and employers create handbooks and policy guidelines, and they can help ensure everyone has easy access to them.
- Evaluating Harassment TrainingThis collection of articles from the Society for Human Resource Management can help businesses choose and implement a training program, and offers guidance on making it effective among their employees and management.
Victims need their jobs, so they don’t feel they can speak up.
For many victims, the prospect of losing their jobs is not worth the risk—especially when it’s coupled with the time and energy it takes to file a claim that’s may or may not yield a positive result. Victims often feel enduring harassment at work is simply easier and more practical than speaking out against it.
- 9to5This organization dedicated to helping women in the workforce has a host of resources for those dealing with harassment and other issues at work. The advice and stories from other harassment survivors is shared to help women cope with and confront workplace harassment.
- The Silent Choir ProjectThis app aims to help victims of sexual harassment report their harassers, get direct advice, and build community with other victims.
- STOPitThe STOPit app simplifies the process of reporting (anonymously) various types of workplace harassment, bullying and other problematic situations.
Know Your Rights
Some workplaces are supportive of employee rights and strive to fix harassment problems. Others dissuade victims from reporting incidents to avoid scandals or the costs of internal investigations, and may deliberately deter the steps employees can take to remedy their situations. Know your rights and protections so you can successfully handle harassment incidents that may come up at work.
- You have the right to feel safe at work, regardless of your sex, race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, age, disability or genetic information.
The U.S. government says petty comments and annoyances aren’t typically considered harassment, but a pattern that causes feelings of intimidation, or even isolated incidents that are severe, may be reasonably considered harassment.
- There are protections against retaliation if you report harassment.
Employees who file a harassment claim, or assist in the investigation of one, cannot legally be harassed or punished for doing so. While this doesn’t always work out in reality, those who do experience retaliation have the recourse of filing additional claims against their employer.
- You cannot be denied reasonable accommodation at work for your religion or disability.
Except under certain circumstances when providing accommodation would be extremely costly to the employer, a workplace must give all employees, regardless of their disability status (or that of their partner) or religious obligations, the same opportunities to work safely and effectively.
- Superiors and co-workers cannot give favors for sexual acts.
This exchange is known as quid pro quo, and is a type of federally protected sexual harassment. Workers are also protected from employer punishment for refusing to engage in the exchange.
What To Do If You Want To Report
Harassment victims who report their situation do so because they believe a resolution is on the way. But workplaces often let harassment victims down, allowing legal loopholes and workplace politics to turn what seems like an obvious solution into an issue that never gets acted upon. Taking the proper steps to address harassment can make all the difference in seeing meaningful results.
- 1. Make sure your situation meets the legal definition of harassment.
- Even if you feel uncomfortable, frustrated or unsafe, if the incident in question isn’t considered
harassment under the law, employers can easily dismiss the claim, and have no obligation to investigate.
- 2. Document the harassment as it happens.
- Taking timely, detailed notes is an important part of gathering evidence to support your claim. If you have tried to change your work situation, such as switching to a different department or by looking for a different job entirely, document that process as well.
- 3. If you feel comfortable doing so, approach your harasser about their behavior.
- Your case becomes stronger if you can show the EEOC and your employer that you
attempted to resolve the harassment on your own. Sometimes, this can even solve the problem, and you don’t have to file a claim. However, victims should not approach their harasser unless they feel they can do so safely and professionally.
- 4. Talk to potential witnesses whom you trust and see if they will support your claim.
- If any trusted co-workers have seen the harassment take place or have experienced it themselves, ask if they will support or join your claim. Credible witnesses can be assets in winning your claim. Read this
preparation manual for guidance on all the pieces of a harassment case from Trinity College of Dublin to understand what being a witness might entail.
- 5. Prepare for litigation.
- Most harassment cases are settled out of court, but it’s a good idea to research possible lawyers in advance in case you feel the incident isn’t being handled properly.
- 6. Present your documentation to the human resources department, your union representative or a manager.
- An investigation will take place, and its results and any recommendations will be provided once the investigation is over.
- 7. Submit a claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Sometimes an employee will choose to file a claim through the EEOC instead of their employer. An employee can also
file an EEOC harassment charge after approaching their employer if they feel the investigation was inadequate or unfair, or if they’ve been subjected to retaliation for their claim.
Additional Resources For Combatting Workplace Harassment
- Better Brave
Better Brave provides resources and empowerment tools for victims of workplace harassment.
- No Bullying – Tips for Fighting Bullying in the Workplace
This site provides simple, straightforward ways people can reduce bullying and harassment at work.
- Society for Human Resource Management
The SHRM has a variety of information for both employees and employers, including this list of workplace harassment investigation resources.
- Time's Up
Time’s Up unites women in entertainment and encourages them to band together to fight sexual harassment.
Combatting Harassment on Campus
Nationwide, colleges have faced criticism for inadequately addressing harassment, but the problem nevertheless continues. Some incidents go unreported, and others may be minimized as administrations get skittish at the prospect of scandals or punishing those who are falsely accused. Social stigma, skepticism that the problem will be addressed, and even the inability to recognize harassment can keep students from reporting problems.
Harassment Culture On Campus
Much like workplace harassment, media stories on campus harassment hit headlines and cause public outrage. The spectrum of harassment issues students face is enormous. From sexual harassment accusations against professors to students vehemently calling out one another for cultural appropriations on social media, harassment is a complicated word on campuses. But no matter how broad the issues, changing the culture surrounding harassment at schools starts with learning. Get to know some of the common situations students face and get resources to help below.
Your intimate information can end up online, whether you put it out there or not.
Receiving threatening or otherwise unwanted texts or social media messages, or having unwanted photos or videos of you posted online, are common campus issues according to a study of cyber harassment among college students. But there is help for those facing a cyberbullying situation, see below.
- Cyberbullying: Report LinksThis site provides a list of social media sites and other online communities, with their corresponding links to report cyberbullying.
- HeartMobHeartMob is an arm of Hollaback! intended to fight cyberbullying.
- Google AlertsSet up a Google Alert for your name, phone number, or any other personal information you may be worried about. Google will send you an email if that information appears online, so you can see what is out there with your name on it.
- Stop Bullying – How to Report CyberbullyingFind information and tips on how to report cyberbullying.
- Understanding CyberbullyingA comprehensive guide with tips and resources designed specifically for handling instances of cyberbullying in college.
Hazing could be a part of the party.
While often associated with athletics or Greek life, hazing has been a historically negative part of acceptance into collegiate groups. Many schools have made efforts to crack down on hazing through stricter rules and increased supervision, but students can do their part to end this type of harassment by refusing to participate where hazing is part of the party and by reporting violations. Sigma Epsilon also provides suggestions for students on avoiding hazing in fraternities in particular.
- AHA! MovementFrom bystander trainings to answering frequently asked questions about hazing, this group focuses on advocacy, education and awareness programs for students.
- Stop Hazing WebinarsVideo webinars cover hazing prevention to tips on what you can do, and the organization also provides campus assessments on the hazing climate at a school.
- Types of HazingThis page, created by the Pembroke campus of the University of North Carolina, outlines different types of hazing, which can help students identify harassment situations.
- Vanderbilt University Hazing ResourcesVanderbilt University provides a good example of campus hazing resource pages that students can seek out at their own schools.
Clubs and student groups can use their right to free speech to offend others.
The ACLU provides information on what types of speech are protected under the First Amendment on campus, and it might mean something offensive to you is legally allowed to be shared. However, there is a line: targeted harassment and threats are not allowed. However, other solutions beyond a harassment claim may exist for students experiencing hate speech or other discriminatory ideals, see below.
- CAIR Civil Rights AppThe Council on American-Islamic Relations developed this app to give users a place to report incidents of bias, offering advice about your rights and contact information for places to get help.
- Get the Trolls OutThis infographic gives ideas for countering hate speech on social media, specifically Twitter.
- Steve FundSome students may feel conflicted about seeking help from their schools, especially if they feel the school is not providing a safe environment. Steve Fund offers online mental and emotional counseling to students of color.
- Top 10 Non-Violent ProtestsThis photo-essay by Time Magazine depicts some of the most iconic peaceful resistance movements in history, and may serve as inspiration for students looking for non-violent ways to counter discriminatory speech.
A teacher could make you feel continually humiliated or degraded.
While most campus harassment issues focus on incidents that occur between students, teachers can also be harassers. The power imbalance between teachers and students, compounded by the fact that teaching occurs in a public sphere, can make students feel especially helpless and can have serious, detrimental impacts on student learning. Here are some ideas to help if you’re facing a challenging situation with a teacher.
- Advice Columns by InterVarsityA Christian fellowship group, InterVarsity provides message boards and mentor advice on tough situations, such as what to do with a professor who bullies.
- Study Breaks “My Bully is 50 and Has a Ph.D.”This personal essay offers a detailed account of teacher harassment, but also gives insights into ways students can identify abusive teachers and offers tips for dealing with them.
- Therapist ConfidentialityTalking to someone professionally can help you understand and cope with a difficult discriminatory situation; learn about a psychologist’s code of ethics regarding sensitive matters, such as harassment, from the American Psychological Association.
- UCLA Professional Behavior GuideSome official guidelines for college faculty Codes of Conduct are laid out here, and the page also gives details on UCLA’s procedures for resolving disputes between students and faculty members.
You may encounter a roommate situation that makes you uncomfortable or is unsafe.
You may encounter a roommate situation that makes you uncomfortable or is unsafe. Living with a randomly assigned roommate in the dorms or rooming with friends off-campus can be a great learning experience for students. However, some roommate situations can become abusive. Living with a harasser can be nerve-wrecking and dangerous, so it’s important that students address any serious issues–not just disagreements between people learning how to share a living space–before the situation worsens.
- Order for ProtectionLearn about this method of legal recourse from Day One Crisis Center. A protection order can be granted in cases where a roommate is the victim of harassment.
- Resident AssistantsIf you live in campus housing, an RA may be able to help mitigate the situation or arrange a room change. If your RA is unavailable or you don’t feel comfortable talking with them, look for a Residence Life contact list, like this one from Rutgers, to find others campus liaisons to get in touch with.
- Restraining Orders Against RoommatesThis law firm article details the process of legally getting a restraining or protection order when living arrangements become dangerous.
- Room Change Request ProcedureSchools should provide students with information on the steps to take to get a new room assignment, such as this one outlined by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. If the situation is urgent, students should talk with housing officials directly and move forward from there.
Grad school students are more likely to be sexually harassed by professors than undergrads.
Among 221 lawsuit cases against faculty members at 210 institutions where misconduct was proven or a settlement was reached, more than half included unwelcome sexual contact, and 48 percent included allegations by multiple victims over time. Victims cite being manipulated into believing extra attention was due to their talent or feeling powerless against harassment because their future was in their professor’s hands.
- Not a Fluke!A part of the Geocognition Research Laboratory, this page is dedicated to researching incidents of academic harassment and assault and offers many helpful related posts and user accounts.
- Office for Civil Rights Complaint FormPart of the U.S. Department of Education, this website for the Office of Civil Rights provides information about filing harassment claims, and gives access to the OCR’s complaint form.
- Sexual Harassment in the AcademyAn anonymous online “survey” where students can anonymously post information on incidents with professors. It’s goal is to provide a safe place for students to report harassment and other misconduct.
- School Harassment PolicyThis page from the University of Alabama is an example of what students can look for when searching for specific information about filing harassment claims at their schools.
- Sexual Harassment at School – What is Sexual Harassment?This page can help students identify types of sexual harassment they may face while at school.
Know Your Rights
Dealing with harassment can be mentally and emotionally taxing, and researching laws, rights and harassment policies after an incident occurs only adds to the burden. Understanding your rights before starting school can help students identify problems and take action to stop them before they get worse. Here are some important things to know:
- Schools are federally prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex.
Title IX laws apply to educational institutions that receive federal funding. However, there are some exemptions to Title IX protections, including campus membership groups like fraternities and sororities, and military training schools.
- Schools are required to provide non-hostile educational environments.
Despite the absence of an overarching, federal anti-bullying law, schools are required to provide safe, non-hostile environments for students. When harassment or discrimination occurs, especially when it’s related to a protected class such as race or religion, schools can be liable for damages if victims can demonstrate the school failed to take steps to protect them. That goes for campus programs that take place off-campus, too.
- Schools must provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities.
All rights granted through the Americans with Disabilities Act apply in both public and private educational institutions. Discrimination against students with disabilities, or fostering an environment that is hostile to them, are federal offenses.
- Crimes that occur on campus must be reported to police.
Under the Clery Act, schools that receive federal funding cannot keep secret crimes that occur on campus. Campus crime and the efforts made to reduce and prevent crime must be reported to students and employees every year.
- Pregnancy or parental status should not inhibit a student’s ability to receive an education.
Like students with disabilities, students who are pregnant or are parents are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations to aid in their education. Those who are harassed or inhibited by educators or peers can file a claim.
What To Do If You Want To Report
Busy schedules, social pressures and lack of know-how can discourage students from addressing or reporting harassment on campus. However, if you are ready to speak up, following these steps can help.
- 1. Determine whether you want to file a complaint through your school or through the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
- Students can file a OCR complaint and a school complaint, or both; it’s advisable to investigate both options to see which route best suits their circumstances. In 2015, the OCR reported a
record number of complaints were filed.
- 2. Obtain a complaint form and fill it out.
- Students need to figure out where and how to fill out OCR complaint forms, and those who file complaints with their schools should search for their campus
Affirmative Action or Equal Opportunity Office or
reporting procedures information online. It’s important to keep in mind that timelines for complaints to be eligible for filing may differ. For instance, an OCR complaint must be submitted within 180 days of the last instance of harassment.
- 3. Provide as much detail as possible.
- Students need to make sure their forms are complete and
contain as much detail about the harassment as possible. Campus resource or counseling centers may be able to help students fill out complaint forms and cope with the process of recounting and recording incidents. A therapist or trusted friend may also be able to provide emotional support.
- 4. Make a copy of the completed complaint form to keep for yourself and submit the original to the OCR or a school official.
- Complaints can be mailed to the OCR or submitted through their online form. For complaints filed through the school, students may need to do some research to find out where to submit the claim. The women’s resource center, diversity office, queer resource center, disability resource center, health counselors or academic advisers should be able to help.
- 5. Wait for the results.
- At this point, the issue may be resolved, or it may be ongoing. Though laws vary by state, you may need to file a
civil harassment restraining order to prevent ongoing harassment. When a decision does come down, they can appeal the decision if they feel it was not handled appropriately, or a legal battle may ensue. Learn more about your options after the
results of an investigation are given from the U.S. Department of Education.
Resources For Combatting Harassment In College
- Anonymous Alerts App
Designed to establish anonymous two-way communication with campus officials, this app allows students to report inappropriate behavior, harassment and other offenses, and allows administrators to take swift action in investigating.
This app allows students to create a list of trusted contacts whom they can alert in dangerous situations. The app also has a number of other useful features to help students feel safe.
- Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
Get comprehensive information on cyber harassment and ways to stop it.
- National Behavioral Intervention Team Association
Find information on behavioral intervention teams, which work to reduce harassment and other dangerous behaviors among students.
- Project Callisto
This app allows students to record and save harassment incidents, see if other victims have dealt with the same perpetrator, and report incidents to campus officials.
How Anyone Can Help End Harassment
Harassment is so deeply ingrained in American culture that it’s often not recognized as such, but anyone can be a catalyst for change. No matter if you are a victim yourself, know someone who has been affected or aren’t directly involved in a harassment situation, you stand up against it. Here’s a list of ideas on how to take action, with tips on what not to do, too.
If you see something, say something—but be smart about how you choose to act. There are many methods of bystander intervention, from saying “that’s not funny” when someone makes an insensitive joke, to calling a friend who might be in trouble, to getting help from someone with authority.
Don’t stand by and let harassment continue.
Although stepping in or saying something is easier for some people than others, psychologists believe it is something anyone can learn. The University of California Davis provides some information on why it’s important to be an upstander or active bystander, and gives advice on what to do in real-life scenarios.
If you notice someone being repeatedly harassed, politely and privately approach them about the situation. Be supportive and express interest in taking action against the harasser. If the victim isn’t receptive to the idea, let them know that you’re still ready to help if they change their mind.
Don’t let victims feel alone or unheard.
Witnessing harassment and letting it slide not only cements the notion that harassment is acceptable, but leaves victims feeling as if their situation is unimportant. Even the simple act of listening can be a useful way to make an impact if you are not yet comfortable calling harassers out directly.
The more publicity harassment gets, the more people realize how widespread the issue is. Learning about what people view as harassment, how people feel when it happens, and ways to reduce harassment and help people cope, can build an empathetic community committed to ending harassment.
Don’t pretend it isn’t there.
Even if you’ve never seen or experienced harassment firsthand, it’s a real and damaging facet of society. Taking time to learn about the issues can give you the tools to notice and identify harassing behavior.
Whether you are a victim or a bystander, it’s important to understand the implications of reporting harassment and the courage it takes to speak out against it. Giving harassment reports serious consideration can encourage more victims to speak up and discourage potential abusers from engaging in harassing behaviors.
Don’t discount harassment claims before you get the full story.
Many victims do not report harassment because they feel they will not be believed, or will be dismissed as being overly dramatic. While making false claims does sometimes occur, few victims have reason to lie, so listen carefully to their stories.
Sometimes people try to convince a victim that their harassment incident was not a big deal, or even go so far as to suggest they should be grateful for the attention, it’s crucial to report it. Documenting and reporting the behavior raises awareness, giving school administrators, workplace managers and the public in general a better picture of harassment’s pervasiveness.
Don’t write off your feelings and let the harassment continue.
While the community at large can and should play an important role in preventing and eradicating harassment, it happens, and victims should know that their harassment is not deserved. Speaking out isn’t easy, but even an interim step—such as making an anonymous report that will contribute to statistics—can help paint a better picture of the harassment epidemic.
Empowering Advice from an Expert on Workplace Harassment
Dr. Brittany L. Stalsburg is a gender expert who owns the market research and communication strategy firm, BLS Research & Consulting. Her work on sexual harassment and women in the workplace has received wide recognition, and she was a recipient of Connecticut Magazine's Top 40 under 40 award. She holds a Ph.D. in Women & Politics from Rutgers University.
Based on your research and experiences, what is the hardest part of recovering from harassment?
I think it’s being able to talk about what happened. Giving voice to one's experience is part of what helps us process difficult events, and in some ways talking about these events can help us move on from them. Survivors of sexual harassment or assault feel embarrassed and ashamed, and may blame themselves for what occurred. Yet talking about the experience can feel empowering, and sharing with others who went through similar situations can help survivors feel that they are not alone, and that what happened was not their fault.
Where are some ways people can address standalone and continued instances of harassment?
I'm very encouraged to see more of a cultural shift in America to a context in which women are being believed and encouraged to speak out. At the same time, we really need to remember that this problem is NOT on women to fix. Employers and institutions that have power are responsible for creating inclusive work environments that are free from sexual harassment and other sexist behaviors. They need to establish clear, transparent and effective anti-sexual harassment policies that hold perpetrators accountable and create an inclusive environment where all employees are respected.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but one key to effectively combatting sexual harassment in particular in the workplace is establishing a culture that is free from sexism and other forms of discrimination. Oftentimes, this starts at the top: leadership in any company or organization must model inclusive behavior so that it becomes a normal part of company culture. Part of this also involves making sure the company or organization includes women in visible leadership roles. The EEOC actually has a great report that outlines the keys to combatting sexual harassment in the workplace.
As someone who has experienced harassment, what would you tell bystanders, potential advocates or even harassers?
Bystanders are a very important part of the solution to combatting harassment. Far too often, people will hear a sexual joke or comment that is clearly making someone uncomfortable, but will go along with it and laugh or just ignore the situation. Bystanders need to stand up to bad behavior, and this is most effective when the bystander is someone in a leadership position.
Additional Harassment Support and Recovery Resources
- Anti-Defamation LeagueAn education and advocacy organization promoting equal rights and anti-semitism with resources catered specifically toward addressing bigotry, religious discrimination, LGBTQ rights, immigrants and refugees, interfaith and intergroup relations and much more.
- American Civil Liberties UnionFrom action and advocacy initiatives to legal support, the ACLU is one of the nation’s primary civil rights activist groups.
- BlindThis app provides a platform for workers to anonymously discuss workplace issues, including harassment, in order to get peer advice and insights.
- CampfireAn online peer support system that connects users in small groups for weekly video meetings in an effort to share and help people facing similar difficulties “feel better, together”.
- Civil Rights Advocacy – HarassmentRead essays and blog posts containing useful information and stories about harassment and advocacy.
- Connect Directory by Victim ConnectLook up local support and service providers with this directory from the National Center for Victims of Crime.
- Crisis Text Line (U.S. Only)Text HELLO to 741741 if you need to talk to someone. Counselors are specially trained to help you with issues and get real answers.
- Daily StrengthAn online support group and forum focused on sharing feelings and experiences related to bullying and harassment.
- Hollaback! Bystander ResourcesA collection of digital trainings designed to help people protect and stand up for their neighbors when they face bigotry and harassment.
- Read Outside the LinesA book club approach to diversity education and action. The campaign, created by the Do Something organization, urges hosting a book club with reading materials that focus on marginalized groups to promote discrimination discussions that build empathy and understanding.
- U.S. Department of Education Laws & GuidanceFind frequently asked questions, checklists and other tools for addressing sexual harassment at school. The department also has information on racial harassment.
- Autism at WorkAn initiative by software company SAP, this program is an example of how businesses can better embrace differently abled people and provide work environments that are more supportive of every employee’s unique abilities.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness, Protection Against DiscriminationOffering advice for succeeding at work with a mental health condition or disability, this page also provides information specifically for reporting discrimination based on a mental health condition.
- Pregnancy Discrimination & Related IssuesThis page details how anti-discrimination laws apply to pregnant workers specifically.
- Self-Advocacy & Student Action PlansSpecifically developed resources on the bullying and harassment of students with disabilities, this page by the National Bullying Prevention Center details what it means to advocate for yourself and create an action plan with peers to help stop harassment.
- Survivors with DisabilitiesAimed at sexual harassment and assault survivors who identify with a disability, this page provides support services and legal advocacy information catered specifically to a variety of demographic and cultural groups.
- Being a Good AllyThis online training course from the University of Pennsylvania promotes culture-driven team building in the workplace with ideas for handling conflict and overcoming common diversity biases.
- Coping with Race-Related StressA college student-focused piece from Brown University, this page provides information on the effects of race-related harassment and recommendations for coping.
- Mind, Body & Sport: Harassment and Discrimination – Ethnic MinoritiesA resource from the NCAA, this guide supports student-athlete mental wellness with an ethnic-based perspective.
- Pride Over PrejudiceA social media campaign by the Do Something organization that challenges people to show solidarity with refugees and immigrants by posting selfies.
- Southern Poverty Law CenterGet information about a variety of issues that affect black Americans, including harassment laws and ways to fight discrimination.
- United to End Racism Counseling SessionsThis page provides instructions on how to create co-counseling sessions to help a friend, family member or other loved one work through their experiences of harassment or racism.
- United We DreamA youth-led movement supporting immigrants and advocating for policy changes that help create a more loving, inclusive community.
- Consortium of Higher Education, Find an LGBTQ CenterA map of all the Consortium of Higher Education’s LBGT Resource Professionals office or center worldwide. Students facing harassment can find a campus program near them for support.
- Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education NetworkWorking to create safe schools for all students, specifically focusing on eliminating anti-LGBT bias and behaviors in schools. Get information on creating Gay-Straight Alliances for student support here.
- FORGEThis organization focuses specifically on addressing violence against the transgender community.
- “How to Become an Active Ally in the Workplace”Bloomberg provides tips for those who want to help and better support co-workers who face harassment or discrimination, to empathize and also be more conscious of unconscious biases.
- Love It ForwardA social media campaign by the Do Something organization, Love It Forward encourages social influencers to publicly support LGBTQ community members and promote more positive relationships between straight and LGBTQ peers.
- National Center for Transgender EqualityMembers of the trans community can connect with one another and access tools for empowerment and education.
- #ChurchTooA social media hashtag movement to draw attention to harassment issues and experiences that happen within church and religious communities.
- Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace & World AffairsThis organization hosts events and provides educational publications promoting religious freedom, with resources specific to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and more.
- Columbia Atheists & AgnosticsThis group from Columbia University provides an example of a campus support organization that encourages judgement free discussions between religious and non-religious students, friends and family members as a way to rise above harassment and discrimination.
- Council on American-Islamic RelationsFrom discussions on Islamophobia to information on civil rights and legal advice, CAIR is a dedicated to establishing a mutual dialog and developing an understanding of Islam to better support American Muslims.
- Jewish Voice for PeaceSocial media support and advocacy groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, exist for many specific religious or faith-based groups.
- Officers’ Christian Fellowship AmbassadorshipA group designed for Christian Military members, this page on religious ambassadorship touches on developing healthy relationships and establishing respect for all faith groups and denominations.
- Religious Diversity ChecklistDoes your company offer or think about religious accommodations? Consult this checklist and use it to establish an open dialogue on religious rights.
- #ThatsHarassmentA social media hashtag campaign aimed at calling out instances of sexual harassment as a means of spreading awareness and breaking down cultural acceptances of discriminatory behaviors.
- 1 in 6A group designed with the specific goal of supporting male victims of sexual harassment and assault.
- Lean InLean In addresses many issues women face, including harassment. Among other things, they have guides on self-care after harassment and how to talk about sexual harassment.
- RAINN Find Help Near YouSelect your state or type in your zip code to find local sexual harassment support centers and affiliate organizations from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
- "Sexual harassment among teens is pervasive. Here's how parents can change that."This Washington Post article provides parents with tips for helping prevent sexual harassment incidents among their kids.
- Stop Street HarassmentThis organization is dedicated to ending gender-based street harassment and provides a wealth of resources, including other groups and campaigns, for people dealing with harassment.
- Take Back the StreetsA street art campaign by the organization Do Something, this movement encourages victims of street harassment to go back to the place an incident occurred and create a piece of street art with the words or actions used against you.
- Walk FreelyThis app can be used to anonymously report cases of sexual harassment, mapping and analyzing harassment instances and trends.
- Women in Film Sexual Harassment Help LineCall 323-545-0333 from 10 AM to 5 PM to be referred to a mental health counselor, legal team or law enforcement professional that can help with your situation.
- American Business Women’s AssociationA women’s networking and career connection organization that also provides opportunities to support women’s rights issues in the workplace.
- Global Fund for Women CampaignsPromoting equality for women worldwide, this page focuses on past and current campaigns that support women’s rights.
- Feminist Majority Foundation, Feminist CampusA collection of current events, advocacy efforts and action plans surrounding the feminist movement, including anti-harassment campaign information.
- Find Local and National Organizations and ResourcesThis directory from Ohio State University’s Department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies provides a long list of support and advocacy group information.
- He For SheAimed at ending harassment and supporting women, He For She provides actionable ideas for men to support women in politics, education, work and more.
- Ms. MagazineA feminist-based magazine that takes a strong stance against many women’s rights issues including sexual harassment and harassment culture.
- Working Mother: Workplace BulliesThis article highlights harassment pregnant women and working mothers face and provides tips for addressing this form of workplace bullying.
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