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Advice for victims of sexual harassment

Most Texans are familiar with the term sexual harassment. Many are likely employed at companies that have sexual harassment policies and may have even gone through some sort of educational training on the subject. Still, few belive the information pertains to their situation. In many cases, when an employee is the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, the initial reaction is to brush off or downplay the offensive comments or actions. It's important, however, for those who experience or witness sexual harassment to come forward.

Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, numerous acts are defined as sexual harassment. For example, sexually-explicit comments and jokes are included in the definition. So too are physical acts such as inappropriate or unwanted sexual advances and body blocking movements. Likewise, guestures of a sexual nature and leering constitute sexual harassment.       

When the victim of sexual harassment by a supervisor or colleague, an employee's first defense should be to ask the aggressor to stop. If this request is denied or the victim doesn't feel comfortable confronting the aggressor, it's important to file a report with a company's human resources department.

In some cases, the offensive behaviors or comments may continue. When this occurs, it's wise for those experiencing sexual harassment to contact an attorney. It's also important to document the visual, verbal and physical acts of harassment and, when possible, ensure such behaviors are witnessed by another party.

Individuals who have been the victim of sexual harassment who decide to pursue legal action should be prepared to produce evidence to support their claims. Written correspondence in the form of texts, emails or letters as well as photographs are often the strongest and most-difficult evidence for a harasser to refute. When possible, it's also helpful to have at least one other individual who witnessed the sexual harassment and can corroborate evidence.

Source: La Jolla Light, "Harassment: How to handle unsolicited sexual advances," Ashley Mackin, July 23, 2013

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