When the head of the International Monetary Fund (a 187-country organization that oversees the global economy), Dominique Strauss-Kahn booked a swanky hotel suite in Manhattan, the housekeeper did what she always does: waited until the room was empty and then went inside to clean it. Little did she know, Strauss-Kahn was still in the room and had locked the door. The maid was then sexually assaulted and had no way of calling for help until the man left.
Sexual harassment is one of the oldest crimes in the book and it’s one that often seems to go unpunished. In today’s R-rated, “sex sells” culture, sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. And it does. All too often.
Fortunately, Strauss-Kahn was taken into police custody and will begin a long sequence of trials and lawsuits. But what about the rest of us? When a government elite is involved with a scandal, the whole world knows about it, but what about people no one knows about? Hopefully, you’ll never have to experience something as painful and scary as sexual harassment, but in order to protect yourself, you should know the facts.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Yes, that’s right: sexual harassment DOES NOT have to include actual intercourse or even physical acts of any kind. When a creepy co-worker won’t stop hitting on you, the stranger on the train won’t stop pressing their leg against yours (even when you move away), that’s still sexual harassment and deserves to be punished.
In order to keep yourself safe from harassment of any type, take the following precautions.
1. Have MULTIPLE emergency contacts.
Going out on a blind date? Heading to an event with some people you don’t know that well yet? Always have two emergencies contacts. Yes, two. We’ve all had the experience of calling your friend for a ride home, but she doesn’t pick up. Have someone you can call just in case your first choice is busy.
2. “No” means NO.
The second you tell somewhat that what they’re doing is bothering you, that action becomes harassment. So, if you feel uncomfortable and uneasy, let the creep know that you don’t want their attention. If they know you’re uncomfortable and continue to annoy you, you have yourself a sexual harassment case.
3. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed.
Us college students and young professionals are constantly trying to make a good impression on the people around us in order to work our way up the academic or professional ladder. That being said, it’s usually the reason why so many sexual harassment cases go unnoticed and unreported in the professional world. Victims don’t want to lose their job or make a bad impression, so they try to ignore unwanted advances. When it comes to you, your safety comes first. Don’t let a potential job opportunity stop you from telling off your creepy boss.
4. Doubt equals don’t.
Yeah, that’s a quote from Oprah, but the woman’s got a point. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re feeling some doubt, it’s your gut’s way of telling you that you something is wrong. That guy seem to be comin’ on a bit too strong? Get out of there. Not sure you want to give that stranger your number? Don’t. We all have instincts for a reason – to protect us – so listen to yours.
Sexual harassment CAN be prevented and punished, but only if victims and onlookers stay proactive. Put yourself first, keep your friends close, and stay on your toes. The world is only as dangerous as you let it be.