What can you do to stop sexual harassment if you’re neither the harasser nor the victim?
Plenty. Sexual harassment is something that frequently arises out of a company’s culture. It won’t stop until there’s a cultural shift that makes abusers realize that such actions simply are not acceptable nor tolerable.
As a bystander, you actually have considerable power to help change your company’s culture whenever you are witness to sexual harassment. You simply have to express yourself in a way that makes it clear that you do not approve. Here’s how to do it.
1. Focus your initial attention on the harasser, not the victim
Many bystanders instinctively think to reach out to the victim in the face of harassment. However, that can make victims uncomfortable and feel worse about their situation by directing attention their way. Instead, direct your attention to the harasser.
For example, imagine that a male co-worker makes a sexual comment about a female co-worker’s body. Don’t apologize to your female co-worker for a comment that you didn’t make. Instead, turn to your male co-worker and say, “That’s inappropriate.”
That makes it clear that you aren’t complicit with their behavior and puts the focus — and all due negative attention and potential embarrassment — on the person who deserves it.
2. Reach out to the victim in private to ask how you can help
When you have a moment where you can approach the victim of sexual harassment alone, that’s when you can express your concern. Let the victim know that you are concerned about his or her feelings and want to offer your support.
Tell the victim that if he or she wishes to file a complaint about harassment, that you will act as a witness — and be true to your word. Your willingness to come forward may be the encouragement a victim of chronic harassment needs to reach out to the human resources department.
Being a good bystander can be difficult, but it’s the only way to make the workplace truly safe for everyone. Sexual harassment victims need all the support they can find — and sexual harassment won’t stop being a problem until the majority of people refuse to allow it to continue.