Harassment Training 101: The 11 Most Common Mistakes Made by Sexual Harassment Victims


I recently read an article in the New York Times by female science writer Christie Aschwanden. At the beginning of the article she recants her first experience as an undergraduate biology major doing field work in Costa Rica. Her experience was appalling, but unfortunately, it seems it was not uncommon (see: current research findings on women scientists in the field). Upon arriving in Costa Rica with an older graduate student, she discovered that he had only reserved one room for them, with one bed at the hotel. Aschwanden admits that she was struck “by how ill equipped I was to deal with this kind of situation, especially at 19. My university undoubtedly had a harassment policy, but such resources were thousands of miles away. I was alone in a foreign country and had never received any [harassment] training on my rights and resources in the field.”

This got me thinking. Most of us, both women and men, probably aren’t prepared to deal with these situations. We take harassment training, but usually, at least in my experience, the focus is on what not to do. The content of most harassment training courses seems to assume the audience is made up entirely of potential harassers, but what about harassment victims? Everyone going through sexual harassment training could potentially be either. So why not educate your employees on what to do if they experience harassment? Where should you start? Let’s take a look at the 11 most common mistakes of sexual harassment victims.

11 Most Common Mistakes Of Sexual Harassment Victims

1. Not Telling The Harasser To Stop

This may seem obvious but it’s actually critical because proving sexual harassment is contingent on proving the behavior was unwanted. In a situation where the victim is too uncomfortable to verbally ask his or her harasser to stop, he or she can write a letter or have a third-party tell the harasser to stop on his or her behalf.

2. Not Documenting The Harassment

Harassment can often turn into a “he said, she said” game. To avoid this, victims of harassment should document the incidents of harassment, which can include saving relevant emails or texts.

3. Not Reporting The Harassment Early

Waiting to report harassment can have serious repercussions. In California it can be the difference between damages being awarded to the victim by the employer or not. But even in other cases, if you wait to report a case of harassment it can, unfortunately, call into question the validity of your statements. Take for example the case of Anita Hill, who waited ten years to come forward about the harassment she allegedly experienced from her former boss who is now Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Clarence Thomas.

4. Failing To Follow-Up After Complaining To Your Employer

After an employee reports harassment to his or her employer it is the employer’s responsibility to investigate the incident and to take appropriate action to stop the harassment. However, just because the employee has reported the incident to his or her employer does not mean he or she should sit back, forget about it and assume that the employer will take care of everything. Even after reporting the misconduct an employee should follow up to see what actions have been or will be taken.

5. Not Getting Mental Healthcare Early

Sexual harassment victims may experience a plethora of emotional side effects following harassment. These can affect both their personal and professional life. Victims should always seek out mental healthcare even if they think they don’t need it.

6. Not Knowing What Constitutes Actionable Harassment Or Discrimination

Be cognizant of what counts as sexual harassment or discrimination. This can vary by state, in California “a victim can only sue for harassment… if the harassment is based on the victim’s protected status, for example race, age, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”

7. Not Understanding Retaliation

Let your employees know retaliation is illegal! Often if employees are unaware that employers are liable for retaliation they will either 1. leave out retaliation facts when reporting their harassment (which could impact their ability to file a retaliation claim later) or 2. they fail to speak up at all for fear that they will be retaliated against.

8. Taking Management’s Or HR’s Word That You Do Not Have A Case

Your management and HR directors may tell you that you do not have a harassment case when, in actuality, you do. They are not attorneys and are fallible. Therefore, if your employer tells you that you do not have a case for harassment, take it under advisement, but also seek a third-party professional assessment.

9. Failing To File An Administrative Complaint In Time

If the DFEH or EEOC do not receive a complaint within the applicable statute of limitations your case could be barred from court forever. View statute of limitations.

10. Not Checking For An Arbitration Agreement

Your company may have had you sign an arbitration agreement during your employment. If signed, this means you have agreed to settle any disputes out of court.

11. Not Getting An Attorney Involved Early In The Process

Hiring an attorney may sound extreme in the beginning, but it is better to have an attorney early in the process to help you navigate the legalities that come with filing a harassment claim.

Advising companies to equip employees with the know-how for dealing with harassment in their harassment training might seem counter-intuitive to you. Aren’t we trying to prevent harassment, you ask? Yes we are. But I’m fairly certain that pigs don’t fly, the moon isn’t made of cheese and despite all of our best efforts and harassment training, harassment will still happen. Let’s give our harassers one more thing to worry about – with knowledge of the 11 most common mistakes of sexual harassment victims – their victims are no longer powerless. Promoting how to react to harassment might just be enough to stop our harassers in their tracks.


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