Verbal sexual harassment refers to any unpleasant behaviour of a sexual nature, including sexual advances, requesting favors in exchange for rewards, using obscene words, etc. It can be both physical and verbal and is a punishable offense.
Using unpleasant words in a workplace leads to a hostile work environment. It is condemnable and one of the primary points in a company’s policy. However, it is often difficult for a person facing verbal sexual harassment to speak out against such behavior.
Verbal sexual harassment also includes catcalling, whistling, unwelcome sexual comments, making sexual gestures with hands, blocking a person’s path, and displaying sexually suggestive visuals. Some people even face subtle sexual harassment such as casual jokes of a sexual nature, unsolicited innuendos, and unwelcome sexual comments.
In a new survey, 77% of women reported having experienced verbal sexual harassment. 51% of women experienced non-consensual sexual touches, 41% reported cyber-harassment, and 27% survived sexual assault.
The report shows that verbal sexual harassment is more common due to its ‘harmless’ nature. It can even come from a friend or a friendly superior as a joke which is not acceptable.
Verbal Sexual Harassment in Workplace?
Verbal sexual harassment in the workplace can include sexual comments, jokes, non-consensual touching, sharing or posting inappropriate and sexual pictures and emails. It can also refer to any unwelcome requests from a company superior towards a junior or trainee in a particular workplace. Verbal sexual harassment is non-gendered and can happen to anyone.
- Unwelcome behavior
Unwelcome or unsolicited behavior is pivotal to the understanding of verbal sexual harassment. The survivor might be a willing participant in certain acts. However, consent might be taken back at any moment by the persons involved. It should typically put a stop to any behavior. The persons in such acts have a right to withdraw consent or change their minds.
- Verbal and non-verbal sexual harassment
Workplace harassment can be both verbal and non-verbal. Both behaviors are usually repetitive and can continue due to a lack of consent. Furthermore, the victim doesn’t need to be the continuous target of the harassment. Anyone who is affected by such behavior can and should report it.
- Non-gendered verbal harassment
16% of men have experienced harassment at the workplace. It shows that harassment can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender. Verbal sexual harassment is reported less in the case of men. Existing prejudices do not allow men to be seen as survivors of sexual harassment. However, this narrative needs to change today.
Examples of Verbal Sexual Harassment
- Calling someone a hunk, doll, or baby without the person’s consent.
- Making sexual comments about a person’s body in a group or directed at the individual privately.
- Whistling or catcalling at a person.
- Sharing any obscene and inappropriate messages, emails, gifs, videos, or pictures.
- Making unwelcome sexual comments about a person’s clothes or looks.
- Sharing lewd jokes in the workplace or sharing anecdotes of a sexual nature.
- Unwillingly touching a person by pinching, patting, rubbing, or intentionally brushing up against another person.
- Making offensive comments in a group or individually on the sexual orientation and gender identity of an employee.
- Repeatedly asking a person on a date despite clear disinterest.
Examples of Non-Verbal Sexual Harassment
- Staring at someone to make them uncomfortable.
- Stalking a person physically or online.
- Deliberately blocking someone’s path.
- Giving a personal gift to an employee.
- Making the employee uncomfortable with facial expressions such as winking.
- Displaying sexually suggestive visuals in the workplace.
Dealing with Verbal Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Dealing with verbal sexual harassment in the workplace lies in the decision taken by the victim. Some might choose not to report, in which case they should not be pressurized. The person affected might also seek legal counsel. Here are some steps to be followed:
- Document the behavior
By documenting the behavior, one can easily report cases of verbal sexual harassment. Keeping a record of inappropriate behavior is useful for legal proceedings and any action taken by the company. By recording the behavior, a lawyer can ascertain the definite timeline of the harassment. Moreover, most companies fail to provide justice to the survivor of verbal sexual harassment due to a lack of proof.
- Call out the perpetrator
Address the perpetrator and express that boundaries have been crossed. Calling out the perpetrator helps the perpetrator understand that their behavior is unwelcome. It can often put a stop to such behavior at the workplace. However, if such behavior persists, calling out the perpetrator can be used in legal proceedings or when the company takes action. There are times, however, when calling out the perpetrator may escalate their behavior. In such cases, it is better to report the behavior.
- Report the behavior
The survivor may choose to report the behavior either to HR at the workplace or seek legal proceedings. In such cases, the person affected must have support. Today, most company policies have been upgraded to include serious consequences in case of sexual harassment at the workplace.
- File a charge against the perpetrator
One can file a charge against the perpetrator at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or an equivalent body. This helps resolve the claim with the company, failing which the survivor has the right to file a lawsuit against the company.
- Seek legal help from a lawyer
Seeking legal help from a lawyer against verbal sexual harassment is a wise decision. One can find legal help by consulting a lawyer or a law firm. Several nonprofit organizations also offer free counsel when there is a case of verbal sexual harassment in the workplace.
Apart from this, there are training programs offered by private enterprises. The training help people find the root cause of this sexual harassment and get a fair idea to deal with it.
Verbal Sexual Harassment Training in the Workplace
Verbal sexual harassment is deeply embedded in the minds of perpetrators. It often results from ignorance and implicit bias. Therefore, verbal sexual harassment training is a necessity in the workplace. It spreads awareness about all forms of sexual harassment and helps create a safe space for employees. Such training seeks to educate beyond legal jargon and help to make an impact in the workplace.
Verbal sexual harassment requires proper training. Without an inclusive training program, it can create a hostile work environment. In addition to this, sexual harassment should be included in the company policies as a punishable offense. By focusing on the transgressor, the workplace can change the narrative of verbal sexual harassment.
Verbal sexual harassment is a violation of rights. It is mentally taxing for the victim and creates a hostile work environment. Verbal sexual harassment is a blow to the company’s reputation if no action is taken against the perpetrator.