There has been a lot of talk of late about sexual harassment – but there tends to be an assumption made that the victim is a woman and the perpetrator is a man.
In fact, although statistics indicate it is less common, men can be victims of harassment both from women and from other men. A 2014 Australian study indicated that five percent of reported cares were men being harassed by women, and 11 percent were men being harassed by other men. (There were also some reports of women sexually harassing other women). A more recent study of harassment in general showed that 20% of American men surveyed had been victims of sexual harassment.
There are some issues when dealing with harassment incidents in which men are the victim:
- Men tend to under-report, especially if they are being harassed by a woman. As boys and men are raised to be sexually ‘forward’, it may appear to be ‘unmanly’ to admit that you were the victim.
- Some sexual harassment behavior between men may be mislabeled as something else. Sexual harassment between men includes allegations of homosexuality, homosexual slurs and in some cases accusing the victim of “effeminate” behavior. These all fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment, but may not be reported as such.
- Sexual harassment of men is often not taken seriously. Or men are told they should be able to “man up” and “deal with it” themselves.
- Gender harassment (that is to say hostile behavior based off of gender) is sometimes reported and considered separately from sexual harassment. Men often become victims of gender harassment if they take time off to care for their children or openly support feminism. Straight men who deviate from gender norms are most likely to experience gender harassment, followed by gay and bisexual men.
The truth is that men are victims of sexual harassment in much the same way as women. Claims have increased, and this is likely an unfortunate side effect of an increase in women in managerial positions – most sexual harassment complaints refer to a superior harassing an inferior. Companies need to address sexual harassment in general – the more lax the office environment about harassment, the more often it happens – and also the special needs of men. For example, men may need more reassurance than women that their complaint will not be made public, which can lead to more harassment. Men also need to know that harassment policies will be applied fairly and that their complaints will not be dismissed or, worse, turned back against them – there have been incidents where a complaint has come out and the victim has faced more sexual harassment, including questions about his sexuality if the perpetrator was another man.
The truth is, sadly, too many companies do not have a solid, fairly applied policy on sexual harassment. And regardless of the gender of the victim, sexual harassment causes significant psychological damage and lost productivity. Sexual harassment happens far more often than it is reported, and men are even less likely to report incidents than women.
What should men do if they are being sexually harassed?
Harassment, by definition, has to be unwelcome. In most cases, you should tell the harasser to stop, in as many words and, ideally, in front of witnesses. If you feel your personal safety would be endangered by confronting the harasser, then you should go straight to human resources. For sexual harassment to be illegal it has to either be severe or pervasive and generally has to create a hostile work environment or be quid pro quo (sleep with me and/sleep with me or). That is to say, the occasional off color joke is not going to get a response in the law (and is more likely to stop if you make it clear it is unwanted).
You should write down what happened and yes, you should report it, if you can. In some cases, there may not be anyone to report to (in a small company, if the perpetrator is the owner, your best option might be to quietly start looking for another job). In most cases, though, you can report the harassment to human resources or to a manager who is not involved. Ask HR what the complaint procedure is.
If you get no support, then you should file a complaint with the EEOC or with your state’s fair employment agency and then contact a lawyer who specializes in employment law and workplace discrimination. Do so as soon as you know your employer is not going to deal with it as you only have 300 days to file a complaint.
Men can be victims of sexual harassment too – and men should not be afraid to stand up for their rights and deal with the situation. If you need an employment lawyer, you should check out Aiman-Smith & Marcy. We specialize in helping employees and have workplace harassment as a major practice area, so we have the experience needed to help you file a sexual harassment complaint and get the support (and compensation) you need and deserve.