Sometimes it’s hard to believe the stories of harassment that come across my desk. Today I read the story of Pavel Curda and Gesche Haas. While attending a networking event for investors and startups in Berlin last month, Haas met with Curda, a European angel investor. After a strictly business meeting at the event, Haas received the following email from Curda:
What?! According to reports Haas was completely caught off guard and wondered if she had said or done something to imply to Curda that this kind of communication was appropriate. She was hesitant to come forward with his harassment. It was only after fellow female colleagues in the tech community came forward about the incident that Haas shared her experience.
In an “apology” posted to Twitter, Curda explained away the harassment, stating that his email had been hacked. Not long after his statement, Twitter user Lucie Montel, responded with the following tweet, challenging his statement with an image of a text sent to her from Curda:
After Montel posted her response, Curda came forward and admitted to sending the messages and offered another apology: “I regret sending the messages while I was in Berlin in July… I apologise for them and I am ready to apologise again in person with a big bouquet of flowers.”
Flowers?! Does this guy not learn?! I don’t know about all women, but if I was sexually harassed by a man an apology with flowers would just feel like more of the same – unwanted advances.
Unbelievable Story #1: FACT.
Surprisingly these unbelievable stories are more common than we might think. Here’s another one I read:
Dr. Paul Becton, Jr., an Arkansas gynecologist, was accused of video voyeurism and photographing patients’ private parts. A warrant that required the seizure of Becton’s cell phone, revealed “deleted images of nude females that appear to have been taken in a medical office during medical examinations” on the hard drive of the phone.
Unbelievable Story #2: FACT.
Or what about the apartment manager who made sexual advances toward female tenants, going so far as to touch himself in a sexual manner in front of them…in what world would that NOT be considered sexual harassment?!
Unbelievable Story #3: FACT.
The more I read the more appalled I become. Working for a compliance company we talk a lot about the gray areas of compliance. When doing business abroad, we must be careful not to run afoul of the FCPA. We have to be careful to question what we see as “business as usual,” because there truly can be some gray areas. Instances where we might give a gift, which is seen as customary in whatever culture we are doing business in, could be seen as a bribe by our parent corporation. But, emailing another professional and demanding sex, taking inappropriate pictures and videos of patients or making sexual gestures toward tenants do not fall into a gray area. Those are clearly WRONG!!!
It gets worse, because we know that not all victims of sexual harassment come forward. Haas herself admits she was not planning to tell her story. If you take a look at the Whisper app you can see a myriad of anonymous reports of sexual harassment. The Whisper app allows people to share their secrets anonymously. Here are just a few examples of what Whisper users who are experiencing or have experienced sexual harassment have gone through:
One Whisper user admitted “I quit my job today! So glad to escape the daily sexual harassment.” Our internal customers are our greatest asset, we need to make sure we are protecting them! We can’t dismiss stories of sexual harassment, waving them off with our hand, saying “well, that’s just crazy, there’s no way that’s true.”
Sexual predators today are getting visibly bolder – acts of those like Curda, Dr. Becton and the inappropriate apartment manager show that sexual harassers are quickly garnering a laissez-faire attitude. People just aren’t taking it seriously, despite the fact that it’s not just unpleasant, it’s illegal. But, as you can see from the Whisper messages above it is very serious and its impeding individuals from living their lives, from being productive at work.
If you think your sexual harassment training isn’t being taken seriously, share with your employees the stories and whispers I’ve shared with you. Everyone needs to know that sexual harassment is not ok and that it will be dealt with appropriately (This means making sure your employees know how to report misconduct. Want a piece of advice? You’ll likely want to promote an anonymous whistleblower hotline).