This post includes descriptions and examples of sexual harassment and sexual assault

Sexual harassment part 2

This important topic is broken up into two separate entries. This post is about sexual harassment and assault incidents and how to best be supportive as an individual. The other post is about sexual harassment policies and processes. 

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are common, though many people don’t know their friends’ and colleagues’ stories. People rarely talk about because they're difficult to share. The New York Times wrote that Harvey Weinstein was able to go about business as usual while he was sexually harassing and assaulting women for three decades [NY Times]. There are many such men who have engaged in similar behavior – the NY Times documents 201 of them here [NY Times].

They were able to do this because the systems of power that operate within companies and industries prevent many assault and harassment accusations from being taken seriously, and accusers are retaliated against. How else could Louis CK, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, and countless others have gotten away with behavior that was largely an “open secret” in their companies and industries?

These same power dynamics can be seen in companies outside of media and entertainment, such as Uber, in which Susan Fowler described a culture in which “high performers” were allowed to indiscriminately sexually harass women with no consequences with HR fully understanding the scope of the problem [Susan Fowler’s Blog]

Source: NPR

Hear it Firsthand

The other female member of my team would sometimes grow irritated in our team meetings because the men weren't treating them with respect. I recall a few occasions where other members of the group would ask her whether she was on her period or joke that she was PMS-ing after she left. I was surprised that they would say these things in front of me, as if this was a totally normal thing to say to a woman. 


One of my colleagues noticed the fact that I was quite disturbed and cold with this guy we were working with, and he asked me why. I told him he was behaving very inappropriately. “You need to report all of this stuff, I will back you,” he said. So then I reported it, but the fact they watched out for me made me stay. I was touched." ~ Amelie, Engineer [source] 

Facts and Data

  • Support after sexual harassment matters. Many women who stay in their jobs after being sexually harassed name that they were able to do so because of the care and peer support they received from managers and colleagues [HBR]
  • Men standing up to sexual harassment makes a real difference. Studies show that men involving themselves in anti-harassment behavior and who become gender-equity advocates make a real difference. Relative to women who confront sexism, men who act as allies are seen as more serious and legitimate in their efforts to combat sexism [University of Washington]
  • False allegations of sexual assault are very rare. The FBI finds that 8% of sexual assault cases opened with law enforcement agencies were determined to be “false or baseless”. This statistic does not include the fact that most sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement and so the percentage of “false or baseless” allegations (compared to all incidents of sexual assault) is much lower [FBI]
  • Most sexual assault is not reported. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 26% of sexual assaults were reported to the police. Reasons for not reporting include: Self-blame or guilt; shame or desire to keep the assault private; humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual's perceptions; fear of not being believed or of being blamed for the incident; and lack of trust in the criminal justice system [National Institute of Justice]

Source: NPR

Take Action

  • Read these three articles! There is too much important info to fit into these posts. Read up on (1) interrupting harassment, (2) what to say to someone who has just been harassed or assaulted, and (3) how to support someone who has experienced harassment or assault

  • Intervene if you see harassment happening. When bystanders remain silent, and targets are the ones expected to shoulder responsibility for avoiding, fending off, or shrugging off offensive behavior, it normalizes sexual harassment and toxic or hostile work environments [HBR]. You can disrupt indirectly by dropping a book or asking the target to meet with you in a conference room. You can talk to the harasser in the moment or later by asking questions like “Were you aware of how you came off just now?” You can talk to colleagues by saying something like “Did you notice that? Am I the only one who sees it this way?” If you have a trusted authority figure, you can also enlist them to help [NY Times]

  • Talk to a target of harassment. Researchers say talking to targets of harassment is essential. Targets often feel isolated, and observers might not know if they thought the interaction was consensual or amusing. You can say: “I noticed that happened. Are you O.K. with that?” People often blame themselves for being harassed, so saying “This isn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong” is really, really important [NY Times]

  • Five sentences to immediately use if someone tells you they’ve been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. [RAINN]

    • (1) I believe you

    • (2) This is not your fault and you don’t deserve this

    • (3) Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me

    • (4) I’m sorry this happened to you

    • (5) I support you – and what would be most supportive that I could do in this moment?

  • Six ways to support someone who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault. [RAINN]

    • (1) Listen and don’t jump to problem solving

    • (2) Validate their feelings without saying overly-optimistic things like “this is all going to work out”

    • (3) Express concern and care and avoid judgment

    • (4) Do not ask about details since talking about the incident can be traumatic. If someone does share details, listen attentively and supportively

    • (5) Help find appropriate resources and options

    • (6) Check in periodically 

  • Create a healthy, feedback-rich environment. At the most fundamental level, avoiding harassment can come long before an actual incident. Proactively engage in informal conversations on the following: team values around treatment; how to help everyone do their jobs and make their days better; how to give positive feedback. Normalizing talking about behavior and defining respectful behaviors also make it easier for coworkers to see and give negative feedback [HBR]

  • Respond to harassment as a team and culture. If sexual harassment does happen, the manager needs to emphasize that it is up to everyone to fix it. Above all, they need to express gratitude to the person voicing concern in order to reinforce the message that such behavior won’t be tolerated. Do it quickly and early [Fast Company]