Sexual Harassment Training: Applications in Life Outside of Work


If you’ve been following the tragedy in Santa Barbara, you’re likely already aware of the #YesAllWomen movement that’s been launched on Twitter. The stories are just heartbreaking. If you’ve missed the story, Elliott Rodger killed six people and wounded 13 others before killing himself. He left behind a 140-page “manifesto” in which he describes his motives, which could be simplified into extreme misogyny.

Afterwards, the hashtag #YesAllWomen began trending on Twitter. Millions began pouring out stories of harassment, discrimination, and the everyday sexism women still face.




The reactions from men struck me as interesting.



It’s never even occurred to me that men might not be aware of this discrimination. That’s what started the #NotAllMen – as in, not all men are horrible human beings. Duh.  But in trying to explain that these are not isolated instances, I struggled. My male friends were often dumbfounded.

Let me share a few stories with you, just in case you’re still in doubt.

A friend of mine pretended to be married to her best friend for THREE YEARS because men didn’t take rejection lightly when she said she didn’t want to date them. It was easier for her to be “married” because it was the only way guys would take her rejection seriously.

Another admits she has been afraid to say no in the past, because when she did say no, she was then harassed at her workplace or on social media.

The following quote from Reddit really hit a nerve:

(From the Slate article) Another young woman was alone at the bar when an older man scooted next to her. He was aggressive, wasted, and sitting too close, but she smiled curtly at his ramblings and laughed softly at his jokes as she patiently downed her drink. “Why is she humoring him?” my friend asked me. “You would never do that.” I was too embarrassed to say: “Because he looks scary” and “I do it all the time.”

Reddit: I mentioned this to my fiance, who told me that this is why she says “hi” to the creepy neighbor who always says “hi.” I was floored. I had no idea women did this. It completely surprised me.

Why do I take self defense classes? Same reason. Why do I walk with my keys in my fist when I walk alone at night? Same reason. Why am I always nice to anybody who happens to be infringing on my personal space? Same. Reason.

In short:


How Can We Help Stop Sexual Harassment?

I’ve discussed before how sexual harassment is horrifyingly hard to fight even in more subdued circumstances, due to the fact that it’s often very subtle. However, these subtle events can build up into an incident. What if people were better informed to stop this type of behavior early on?

Clearly I’m not suggesting that sexual harassment training would have stopped Elliott Rodgers. But what about the hundreds of stories that women shared? I’ve only attached a few here, but you can read more in the following articles from Slate, NPR, CBC, and CNN.

Slate also has a great article about why men often don’t see the type of harassment women experience. The author says it best,

“[Men] don’t always have the correct vantage point for recognizing the subtlety of its operation.”

In The Workplace

  1. Know how to recognize incidents. The first step is to help people, especially men, recognize the signs of subtle harassment through widespread harassment and discrimination training. Make sure your sexual harassment training is modern, interactive, engaging, and addresses realistic, subtle scenarios, rather than only the blatant incidents that are less likely to occur.
  2. Encourage reporting. Women may not feel comfortable speaking up, for two reasons: 1) they are being harassed by someone they perceive as harmless, or 2) they are being harassed by someone they perceive as a legitimate threat. Both are problematic. The first is problematic because someone who may seem harmless may not be. Also, other employees may feel the same way and be afraid to report the same harasser. Other variations of this happen too. One woman filed a report against her harasser, only to find out that two other reports had been filed. The man was fired after her report because they finally had enough evidence. This is why a speak up culture is so critical, you must encourage reporting, early and often. The second is even more problematic, for obvious reasons. You can see why encouraging reporting is vital here, too: you want to sort out these employees before an incident occurs.
  3. Link policies together. Also, make sure your employees know your social media policy extends outside of the workplace. Engaging in inappropriate social media behavior, even harassing someone who is not an employee, is grounds for action to be taken against them. Make sure your social media training identifies what harassment on social media looks like.

Beyond The Workplace

You have an opportunity to improve men’s and women’s lives in a way that extends past the workplace. If your employees are aware and empowered and feel strongly about reporting incidents of harassment and discrimination, that awareness will spread to their friends and families in a way that will benefit society as a whole. Once your employees know what these incidents look like, they can encourage others to stand up for themselves and report wrongdoing.

While we may never be able to prevent tragedies such as the Santa Barbara murders, hopefully we can begin to tackle the smaller incidents, the building blocks of misogyny, harassment, and discrimination that half of our population faces every day.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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