Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: What To Do As a Student/Young Adult

By Amanda Cohen on April 5, 2018

Sexual harassment in the workplace isn’t a new evil that we all must fight against. Between the disgusting behaviors of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, sexual assault has been discussed and people are learning how to combat this evil perpetrated by people who abuse their powers.

Even though people have been talking about sexual harassment, they haven’t been talking about it in relation to students and young graduates who are just entering into new jobs and internships. Unfortunately, recent graduates and college students are a vulnerable population because they are either interns or in entry-level positions and, unfortunately, people in higher-up positions take advantage of this.

So, what should students and young graduates do? I’m not an expert, but as a woman who is about to graduate from college and enter into an entry-level job position, I have thought about this situation a lot and have thought about how I would handle it. I want to pass along my thoughts and research to my readers, so please read on.

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Understanding sexual harassment is a huge part of the fight against it. Sexual harassment is technically defined as, “Harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.”

Basically, sexual harassment can range from disgusting and uncomfortable comments to disturbing actions (a form of sexual assault). If a person is making you feel uneasy or unsafe in the workplace because of a sexual remark or action, that’s when you know it’s sexual harassment. Since sexual harassment isn’t just one particular thing, it can be hard to identify when you’ve been harassed and when you should say something. The rule of thumb, in my opinion, is if you feel uncomfortable, you should say something about it.

If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, there are a few steps that I recommend taking so that you receive justice after experiencing this horrific act. First and foremost I would talk to a friend/colleague within the company so that you don’t have to fight this battle alone. This person can either be a confidant, or they can help you when you choose to speak to someone higher-up about the incident.

After talking to a trusted friend/colleague, you should talk to Human Resources. The people working in the Human Resources offices of any company are trained and know the protocol when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. You go an HR person and tell them your problem face-to-face so nothing is misconstrued and so they can see how serious the problem. In addition, you can talk to your HR representative about different ways of handling it. Once you go to HR they will be the communication between you and the sexual harasser.

If HR doesn’t do anything about it, you talk to your boss. Companies are aware of the seriousness of sexual assault and they want to prevent any incidences within the workplace. If you set up a meeting with your boss, they will understand the severity of the situation and how the incident has caused you to question the company’s integrity and the people they choose to hire.

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If you are nervous to go to your boss, you can bring a friend/colleague with you for emotional support. If you are a woman and your boss is a man and you don’t feel comfortable talking to him about it, find a woman in a high-up position who can help you navigate the issue. Having another female voice can help you find some closure in the incident and they can help you navigate the process of reporting sexual harassment within the company.

However, when it comes to sexual harassment, the most important thing is your health, both mentally and physically. If you are having trouble coping with the situation, it is important to ask for help. That help can be from a friend, a colleague, or even a therapist. There is no reason why you should have to deal with the emotional repercussions of something you didn’t ask for nor deserve. Healing from a case of sexual harassment goes so far beyond contacting your HR representative. You are the one who you should be worried about. Don’t worry about your position in the company or people finding out, you need to take care of yourself when it comes to something as serious as sexual harassment.

I want all of my female readers to remember that sexual harassment isn’t okay and if you are a victim of sexual harassment, you did not ask for it, it’s not your fault, and you will make it through, I promise. It’s devastating that sexual harassment is such a terrible epidemic in the workplace, but that’s why it’s important to stand up for yourself if you find yourself in an uncomfortable sexual situation. You are not alone and you have people in your corner, never forget that.

I am currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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