Sexually inappropriate behavior has no place in the office, and every workplace should have a clear policy against it. But what can you do if you are the witness of inappropriate touching or grabbing, comments or jokes of a sexual nature, or sexual advances? What should you do if you find yourself in a bystander situation?
Fortunately, there are interventions for sexually inappropriate behavior that will help you figure out how you can intervene and change things for the better. Below are nine common interventions for sexually inappropriate behavior:
1. Call out the harasser for inappropriate behavior (when it’s safe to do so)
If you think it’s safe to do so, call out the harasser on their sexually inappropriate behavior. For example, tell them that their dirty joke was not funny, that they should let the victim alone, or that what they are doing is violating the sexual harassment policy of your workplace.
However, if you feel like calling out the harasser would encourage retaliation, you might choose to not intervene right away.
2. Step in and change the subject
If you are afraid of retaliation, but still want to intervene, you could step in and change the subject. You could, for example, ask the harasser a question about a project you are both working on, or simply ask them if they can tell you what time it is.
This simple intervention could change their mind, or allow the victim to get out of the room and to get to a place where they feel safe.
3. Speak with the harasser in private
If you feel like calling out the harasser in front of the victim and other bystanders is not the right thing to do, you could speak to them in private at the end of the day. This is often an effective method of intervention for sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
Let them know their behaviour was offensive or abusive, and that you don’t think it should be tolerated. You don’t want them to feel attacked and to retaliate, so instead of telling them they are wrong for doing or saying something, tell them that what they did or said was wrong.
4. Speak with the victim in private and offer your support
You could also speak to the victim and offer them your support. Ask them how they are feeling, and if they would like to report the sexually inappropriate behaviour to their superior or to human resources.
If they choose to report the incident, let them know they can count on you to confirm their report as a witness.
5. Keep a record of the sexually inappropriate behavior you are witnessing
If the victim is not feeling ready to report the incident, or if you keep witnessing inappropriate behaviour that isn’t directed to anyone in general, you should consider keeping a written record of the events.
In a notebook or on your phone, write down what happened, when, where, and who was involved. This evidence could eventually be useful to file a report. If necessary, work with management to conduct an official workplace investigation that will get to the root of all the sexually inappropriate behavior.
6. Report sexually inappropriate behavior to your superior
Any sexually inappropriate behaviour in the workplace should be reported to your superior, or to human resources. If your reports are being ignored, research who you should contact in your area to report the harassment to ensure proper intervention is underway.
If your workplace has no policy in place against sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, let your superior know that such a policy would be beneficial to everyone in the office.
7. Encourage bystander action
On top of establishing a clear policy against sexually inappropriate behaviour, your workplace should develop policies and guidelines for bystanders.
People who witness inappropriate behaviour need to have a better idea of what they can and should do to safely intervene. There are many instances where witnesses wish they could help the victim, but they simply don’t know how, or they are afraid they would do more harm than good.
8. Select a great sexual harassment training program
Sexual harassment training programs can help people learn how to identify inappropriate behaviour, and change their attitudes towards it. However, a poorly designed program can trigger denial and anger, or make men feel attacked.
You need to select a well-designed training program that can help achieve real results, so everyone at your workplace understands what is sexually inappropriate behaviour, and can develop more empathy towards victims.
9. Promote respectful and inclusive behaviour
Sexually inappropriate behaviour is less likely to occur in a respectful and inclusive workplace. If you feel like the culture of your workplace could be improved, think about suggesting some change to your superior.
After all, a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected is sure to result in happier, more productive employees. Policies should be clear, and negative behaviour should be met with negative consequences while kind and inclusive behaviour should be encouraged and rewarded.
Implementing positive change can be long and difficult, but it can be done, and it’s definitely worth the effort.