Did that just happen? Ending Workplace Harassment and Sexual Assault

Female student using a laptop

By Sara Calvert, Career Services Specialist

With the evolution of movements including #MeToo, we as a community encourage those who are open to sharing to tell their stories as we work toward a future that is free of sexual violence. Survivors of sexual assault and harassment are feeling empowered to step forward in the way that fits for them, whether in or out of the spotlight. This societal shift in the way we talk and think about sexual violence makes us more open than ever to being change agents in how sexual violence will not be tolerated in our society.

As a Career Services Specialist, one of the things I am aware of is how sexual harassment and assault are often overlooked in the workplace. We’ve seen the recent headlines about egregious acts and abuse of power, but that’s not the whole story as subtle and less visible behaviors can cause considerable harm. So what can you do? Let’s talk it through.

“Did they just say that?”

Female student ponderingFirst, let me just say to trust your gut. With that said, let’s establish a shared definition of sexual violence and harassment. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), “Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from sexist attitudes and actions to rape and murder. Sexual violence can include words and actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will.” (NSVRC, 2018). Harassment is defined as unwelcomed conduct based on a person’s protected class including race, color, ethnicity, gender, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. In terms of employment, harassment must also meet a threshold of being considered severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment and that of enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment to be considered unlawful (EEOC, 2018). As you can tell, these definitions, while specific in some ways, do a good job of accounting for the variability of our unique experiences. In the end, if the interaction feels bad, whether directed at you or as a bystander, take care of yourself and seek support.

Prevention is the Key!

relationship jigsaw puzzleStatistics show that 12 percent of victims of sexual violence were at work when the crime occurred (RAINN, 2018). But simply knowing the statistics is not enough. This victim could be your sister, your mother, your brother, or your uncle. We are talking about real people. The best way to tackle harassment and sexual violence is to focus on prevention, and steps employees and employers can take to keep sexual violence from occurring in their businesses (EEOC, 2018). So what can you do as one employee? Here’s a short checklist you can use to see if your employer measures up and is prepared to support the needs of its community:

  1. Have clearly defined guidelines stating what the consistent response will be to any allegations of harassment or sexual violence. Workplaces Respond offers resources, including a model, to support employers in developing these guidelines.
  2. Require annual trainings on workplace violence and harassment.
  3. Offer bystander intervention training to equip employees and leadership with the tools that will allow them to safely and effectively assist someone at risk of sexual violence.
  4. Clearly outline who employees can contact for support in the event they experience sexual violence.

Looking for some additional info, check out these tips for bystander intervention on the Ashford Community Safety Page.


National resources available to support workplaces & employers:

  1. Workplaces Respond is a website committed to raising the industry standard on creating workplaces free of sexual violence. They have created resources to support employers, coworkers, and survivors, as well as advocates.
  2. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws making it illegal to discriminate within the workplace.


Know Yourself (and your Resources)

LGBTQ studentsEach person responds differently after surviving sexual violence, and what may help some recover may not work for others. Knowing what resources are available to survivors of sexual violence can help you support a friend or coworker, or may allow you to regain control should you experience sexual violence personally.

Surviving sexual violence is traumatizing, to say the least. In the days, weeks, months, and years to come, it will be important to remember to take care of your physical and emotional well-being. Consider what self-care practices you can implement and when you should seek professional support. Remember that how you respond is your choice. If you choose to pursue legal action, there are resources to help you navigate the criminal justice system and to gain a better understanding of what the process may look like once you report to law enforcement.


National Resources Available to survivors of sexual violence:

  1. The National Sexual Assault Hotline [800.656.HOPE] is a free and confidential resource offered through RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network]. Also offered through their website is a free, confidential chat option as well as countless resources and statistics.
  2. The Department of Defense Safe Helpline [877.995.5247] or https://rainn.org/dod-safe-helpline offers support to members of the DoD who have been affected by sexual assault.
  3. RAINN also partners with local service providers to make it easy to find support within your community including medical and counseling services, emergency shelter, as well as volunteer opportunities: https://centers.rainn.org/
  4. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) is committed to prevention, response, research, and resource creation supporting survivors of sexual violence and works closely with local governments to further understand and work toward eliminating sexual violence. Note: NSVRC does not provide direct survivor support, but it supports local service providers who do.


Whether or not you have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence, the odds are that you know someone who has. The time is now, and our voices are one of our most powerful tools in effecting change. I invite you to find the ways that work for you, identify behaviors that need to change in your workplace and in your community, and talk about it with others who share your values. Together we will be allies in the fight to end sexual harassment and violence, in and out of the workplace.


About the National Sexual Violence Resource Center | National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). (2018). Nsvrc.org. Retrieved 13 March 2018, from https://www.nsvrc.org/about/national-sexual-violence-resource-center

Harassment. (2018). Eeoc.gov. Retrieved 13 March 2018, from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm

RAINN | The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. (2018). Rainn.org. Retrieved 13 March 2018, from https://rainn.org/

Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence – A National Resource Library. (2018). Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence. Retrieved 26 March 2018, from https://www.workplacesrespond.org/