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How to address sexual harassment in the workplace

(KOKH/FILE)

Sexual harassment allegations against powerful men – from Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, to Bill O’Reilly and Roy Moore - have been making headlines for weeks. Tuesday, lawmakers at the Capitol accused sitting members of Congress of sexual harassment.

But it’s not just a problem in Hollywood or D.C. Sexual harassment and assault happens everywhere.

“This is on the streets, this is in classrooms, this is at your workplace, this is at family events,” said Mackenzie Masilon with the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Women and men in Oklahoma face abuse at work in all industries, but those stories don’t tend to make headlines. Part of the problem is the fear of coming forward.

“And that’s a very real thing,” said Masilon. “So we have to ultimately, as individuals, want to change the culture we live in – speak up for people who can’t speak up for themselves. If you’re witnessing something, say that’s not okay, and that’s how we get that dialogue started.”

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is a persistent problem that’s vastly underreported. The federal agency received more than 91,000 complaints last year, and nearly 30 percent of those were for sex-based workplace harassment.

Those numbers barely scratch the surface though, since the EEOC says three-fourths of people who are sexually harassed on the job don’t tell anyone.

“For anybody experiencing any form of sexual assault or harassment, know that you’re not alone,” said Masilon. “Know that this was never your fault. Know that there is a whole network of people that want to help you get through this.”

Sexual harassment at work can include making suggestive comments about someone’s clothing or appearance, touching someone inappropriately, or sharing lewd images or messages.

“Is that unwanted attention making a hostile, uncomfortable work environment? If so, that’s when something needs to be done about it.” Masilon said.

If you are facing sexual harassment at work, these are a few steps experts recommend:

  1. Document any inappropriate comments or behavior. Include the date, time, and names of any witnesses
  2. Keep those notes in a safe place so if you lose your job, you won’t lose access to them
  3. Gather any evidence of harassment, like emails, text messages or notes
  4. Report the harassment at work
  5. If your employer won’t take action, file a complaint with the EEOC
  6. Contact a lawyer

There are statutes in place to protect you. Your employer is required to keep your workplace free of sexual harassment.

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