Manners & Misdemeanors

What to Do If You Are a Victim of Sexual Harassment

Your supervisor, boss, teacher, trainer, instructor, professor, manager, company owner may be charged with sexual harassment.
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Earlier this month, the New York Times published a story about allegations of decades of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s top producers. Later allegations that have been made public include Weinstein's promises of career growth in exchange for sexual favors, and multiple allegations of rape. The Los Angeles Police Department has launched an investigation into the matter.

Meryl Streep and Judi Dench were among the first Hollywood A-listers who condemned Weinstein. The issue has snowballed into an international campaign against sexual harassment. People used #MeToo in sharing their experiences about being victims of sexual harassment.

Anyone can be a victim

Looking at the personalities who have come forward and shared their horrific experiences on social media, anyone can feel powerless in the face of sexual harassment. The victims’ revelations provide a powerful insight into the prevalence of sexual harassment because it shows that victims can be anyone regardless of gender, background, age, or social class.

What can we do about sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere. Depending on the situation, we've compiled some tips from lawyers on how to handle sexual harassment in our country. While Republic Act 7877, also known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, defines where sexual harassment can occur and how it can happen, there are many other instances when you are left with very little chance to defend yourself against these acts.

To be clear, sexual harassment is an act or a series of acts involving any unwelcome sexual advance, request or demand for a sexual favor, or other verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, committed by a person in a work-related, training- or education- related environment.

My colleague is sexually harassing me. What can I do?

According to the law, sexual harassment can only be done by a person with authority, influence, or moral ascendancy in the workplace, school, or training institution. The law is very clear on this. In other words, the people who can be charged with sexual harassment are your supervisor, boss, teacher, trainer, instructor, professor, manager, company owner, etc. Does this mean that your colleague can get away with inappropriate sexual advances and harassment?

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No.

Regardless of who your harasser is, the first thing you must do is to talk your harasser and tell them to stop. If he or she still continues to harass you, the next thing you must do is talk to other people who are witnesses and who may also be victims of the harasser. You can secure their testimony or file joint complaints against the harasser.

If this does not stop your harasser, you may also report incidents to your immediate supervisor by writing a formal letter documenting the instances of sexual harassment. You must also inform the HR manager, who possesses expert knowledge on labor relations including sexual harassment issues. If these are not enough or if your complaints are ignored, do not hesitate to escalate it with the company’s senior management. It is always good to strengthen your claim with the support of colleagues. Punishment, if meted out, will depend on the company’s code of conduct.

But what if it’s my boss who is sexually harassing me?

Usually, it is difficult to prove allegations of sexual harassment, but not impossible. Here are things you should do when your boss or immediate superior sexually harasses you.

Document everything. Sexual harassment from your superior can take the form of “rewards” and punishments. For example, you are offered a promotion in exchange for sexual favors, or you are threatened with disciplinary measures if you don’t accede to the harasser’s demands. If such offers or threats are made, write the date and time when it happened, where it happened, and who the witnesses are, if any.

If you are treated differently from others, you can also write that down. The harasser may not be making sexual advances or asking you for sexual favors, but may be creating what is called a “hostile environment”. It is a type of sexual harassment where you are being harassed due to your gender. Examples of this include comments about your gender being inferior, sexual comments, or difference in treatment towards the opposite sex.

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Preserve email messages, chats, texts. These are usually the best evidence of sexual harassment. Keep a backup copy of these exchanges. Never delete these. It is highly advised that you keep a printout of all your proof, whether these are emails, screenshots of text or chat, or memos.

File a complaint. Once you have enough proof and documentation, including the support of testimonies from your colleagues, file a complaint with the company’s Committee on Decorum and Investigation (your company should have this; if it doesn’t, it is violating Section 4b of Republic Act 7877.) A procedure and the requirements in filing a complaint can be viewed here.

 My doctor/nurse sexually harassed me. What should I do?

Although a healthcare environment is different from your workplace, the conditions for sexual harassment may still present themselves. For example, a doctor or a nurse may not be your superior but he or she undoubtedly exercises influence over medical decisions and whatever professional fees you may pay, and whatever services he or she may choose or opt not to deliver. By virtue of their superior knowledge over yours in medical practice and the nature of their work, they are put in a position of moral ascendancy and responsibility for your health or fitness.

Procedures for filing complaints go through a similar process as in the workplace: look for the hospital administration and file it with their Committee on Decorum and Investigation. Make sure to document exchanges with the hospital. You can take it further by initiating an independent civil action with the courts, or filing a criminal case to penalize the harasser with imprisonment or a fine.

Does this also apply to my gym instructor or fitness coach?

Absolutely. If the harassment involves your gym instructor, yoga instructor, fitness coach, or any of the like, speak up about your discomfort. This is very important. This sets boundaries on how you expect your instructors to act or behave since fitness training or exercise is very physical. You want to send the message to your instructor that if they go beyond a certain line, they will be considered sexually harassing you. If your instructor still makes you uncomfortable by repeatedly crossing the boundaries you have set, you can report him or her.

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It is also best if you can find out who else his or her former clients are. Mind the emphasis on former. If you talk to present clients, there is a risk of exposing the case and investigation could backfire. Ask the clients if they have ever experienced being sexually harassed by the same instructor or coach. If they have, invite them to join you in filing a complaint with the gym’s manager or owner.

What if it’s my professor/teacher?

Many students are afraid to speak out against professors for many reasons. Teachers wield tremendous influence and authority, not only among students but also among staff and sometimes school administrators. This influence is most of the time reinforced by culture. This makes reporting sexual harassment by teachers very difficult for students.

Sexual harassment in school can take several forms. For example, they can be verbal (comments on your body, dirty jokes, spreading rumors about you), physical (flashing, rubbing, holding, or any form of touching), or visual (display of obscene materials). A teacher might offer you better grades if you do a certain favor, or a teacher might threaten to fail you in your exams if you don’t agree to a certain request.

If you’re a student and you are experiencing sexual harassment by your teacher or any school authority or staff, you must do the following.

Say “No” Clearly. Tell your teacher, professor, or school authority that you are uncomfortable and that you don’t like what he or she is doing.

Write it down. Keep a journal or a diary of what happened. Make sure that it is very detailed including the date, time, and place, and possible witnesses.

Report it. When reporting, always do it by documentation. Have it in writing and let the school official (guidance counselor, principal, etc.) who received your report sign a receiving copy, which you need to keep. Go to your school’s guidance counselor and report your experience. They should report this to the school’s management. 

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In any case of sexual harassment, it is very important to seek help and advice from trusted friends and colleagues. Never suffer in silence. If you are a victim of sexual harassment and do not know how to proceed with filing a complaint, you can visit this helpful infographic and this condensed guide from government to answer your questions and guide you on what to do.

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