It is important to understand that if someone touches you sexually at work, even over your clothing, it is not just sexual harassment - it is also sexual assault and should be taken seriously.
But should you let "harmless" go crude remarks and sexual innuendos go? No! If something is making you feel uncomfortable you should stop it right then and there before it escalates.
Here are steps to help you protect yourself and your civil rights if you have been or are being sexually harassed at work.
Confront the Harasser
Confront the person sexually harassing you. Look them in the eye and tell them what they did was inappropriate. Be specific and blunt - do not worry about being rude: you have a right to be.
Tell Them to Stop!
The first time someone does something you object to, tell them "stop!" Say it loud enough for others to hear for extra emphasis. Never apologize or make excuses for the offender.
Document It Or Report It Immediately
Sexual harassment is wrong, illegal and deserves to be addressed. But if you feel in your best judgment you have handled things in steps one and two above at least document the date, time, place, what happened, your action, and the harasser's response. If it ever happens again to you, or to someone else at work, you will have a history to refer to.
Report It Immediately If Touching Is Involved
Never let sexual touches or demands for sex go unreported. Touching in a sexual manner is sexual assault. Document the incident and immediately report it to management.
"A sexual assault has been committed when an individual engages in sexual activity without the explicit consent of the other individual involved. Sexual activity is any touching of a sexual or other intimate part of a person for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party. This includes coerced touching of the actor by the victim as well as the touching of the victim by the actor, whether directly or through clothing." -- Sarah Lawrence College
Call the Police
If you have been sexually assaulted you have the right to call the police and report it as a crime. Never let guilt or a desire to protect your attacker keep you from asserting your rights. You have done nothing wrong and someone who gets away with one instance may continue the harassment which could escalate into a more violation crime, like rape.
Hire a Lawyer If You Have Been Harmed
If you report sexual harassment and as a result, lose your job or are demoted, you may wish to contact a civil rights attorney. Or, if you report the incident to management and they do not take appropriate steps to investigate and stop harassment at work - call an attorney.
Your rights to work in an environment free from sexual harassments are protected by federal laws. A good civil rights attorney can advise you if you have a case and what legal steps to take to sue your harasser or employer in civil court.
If you are physically injured by an attacker, you should call the police immediately, and then contact an attorney as soon as possible to document evidence you may need later to prove your case.
Get Help - Find Support
Victims often blame themselves in some way, or others may say a victim was "asking for it." If you have been traumatized, consider joining a support group or get professional counseling. It helps some victims feel empowered again if the become proactive in an organization that seeks to end discrimination.