11 Steps to Take If You've Been Sexually Harassed at Work

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On Wednesday, 21st Century Fox officially announced that one of cable news' most prominent personalities, Bill O'Reilly, would no longer work at Fox News. The announcement came after new details a series of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct allegations came to light in a New York Times report earlier this month. O'Reilly has firmly denied the allegations and released a statement following news of the Fox News departure, saying that it was “tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.”

Harassment in the workplace is a problem for many American women whose jobs, well-being, or even physical safety are put at risk by inappropriate co-workers. A 2015 Cosmopolitan survey found that one in three women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work; of these, only 29 percent felt comfortable enough to report it.

The recent dialogue about the O'Reilly allegations may reignite a national conversation about sexual harassment, Human Resources Management specialist Caren Goldberg tells Bustle. Media coverage of sexual harassment, Goldberg says, "often tends to encourage people to voice concerns, because they see that, 'Okay, well, it's not just me, this is real. It's not just my imagination.'"

If you are experiencing sexual harassment at your office, know that you have options, including filing a complaint with your employer or going to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Below are some of the many steps you can take if you are being sexually harassed.

1. Figuring Out If You've Been Harassed

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"I think many women put up with sexual harassment because they don't recognize that it is sexual harassment," attorney Patricia Barnes tells Bustle. Sexual harassment is defined by the EEOC (the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination law) as harassment experienced because of your sex. According to the EEOC, although sexual harassment can include "unwelcome sexual advances [or] requests for sexual favors," it "does not have to be of a sexual nature," and "can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex." If your coworker repeatedly says misogynistic things, for example, that might constitute sexual harassment. Furthermore, both harassers and victims can be male or female.

2. Assessing The Situation At Your Company

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If you determine that you are experiencing sexual harassment, think about how this harassment exists within the context of the company for which you work. When asked about filing a sexual harassment complaint with your company, Goldberg advises victims to approach the situation carefully: "There's no cookie-cutter approach, because it really depends [on] the climate of the organization, how seriously they're likely going to take it."

Ask yourself: Is this kind of behavior common in your workplace? Do you feel that your supervisors or human resources staff would be upset by what has happened? Do you believe that any investigation into your complaint would be thorough?

3.Addressing The Issue Personally

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Depending on your personal situation, you may feel comfortable simply addressing the issue with the harasser. "It might be wise to first tell the harasser to knock it off," Barnes says. "Use a firm, no-nonsense voice that leaves little room for interpretation. This can be personally empowering and might nip the problem in the bud."

4. Weighing Your Options For Reporting

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If you feel comfortable reporting your complaint to your company, know that you may have a variety of options for doing so. "Many organizations do have some desirable features" for reporting sexual harassment, Goldberg says, such as "multiple reporting avenues" and "anonymous hotlines."

Depending on your workplace, you may feel more comfortable reporting harassment anonymously; if you're being harassed by a supervisor, there may be another person at your company to whom you can bring the complaint.

5. Understanding Your Company's Policies

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"Victims of sexual harassment should become familiar with their employer's sexual harassment policy," Barnes says. "If they experience harassment, they should consider filing a complaint in accordance with the policy. If the supervisor to whom they are supposed to complain is the one who is doing the harassing, they should go up the line."

6. Educating Yourself About the Relevant Laws

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According to the EEOC, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. You have the legal right to be protected from sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlines protections that Americans have in the workplace. Other laws or employer policies may also protect you from sexual harassment.

7. Recording Instances of Harassment

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Whether or not you ultimately decide to file a complaint, it can be useful to keep track of the times you have felt harassed and the types of harassment you have experienced. "An HR person may hear sexual harassment as a 'he said/she said' situation," Barnes says. "It is more persuasive if the victim has carefully recorded several instances of harassment, along with the dates, time of day, witnesses, and how the incidents made them feel."

8. Making The Report

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"It is worthwhile for the victim to think about how to make a compelling complaint," Barnes advises. "Include any evidence of what occurred — documents, witnesses, emails, social media, statements from other workers who have experienced similar problems with the harasser." Take the time to put together a careful report, and be sure to document your communications with human resources or the supervisor to whom you have directed your concerns.

Be aware that you may need to push for updates on investigations into your complaint. "If I go out on a limb and make an accusation, even if the organization deems my accusation to not have merit, I want to know that they've done a full investigation, they've reached a conclusion," Goldberg says.

9. Filing A Complaint With The EEOC

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If you elect to file a complaint with the EEOC, you will need to do so within 180 days of the most recent incident of harassment, though the limit is higher in certain states with broader laws. However, when investigating harassment charges, the EEOC will look at earlier incidents as part of your whole claim.

It is also important to approach your EEOC charge with realistic expectations. "The law is complicated," Barnes says, "and it is difficult to hold an employer liable for sexual harassment. If the harassing employee is the victim's co-worker, the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions." For example, your employer might be found liable if you can demonstrate that you filed internal complaints against your harasser. and they responded negligently. However, if you are being harassed by a supervisor, Barnes says things may be different. "In cases in which the harasser has the power to hire or fire the victim," she explains, "different rules apply."

10. Standing Up For Victims Of Sexual Harassment

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If you are not a victim of sexual harassment, you can still play an important role in preventing it. Bystander activism can be one of the strongest forces against sexual harassment, Goldberg says. "If the harasser isn’t getting positive reinforcement socially, by having people laugh along," she says, "they’re not likely to going to engage in it, just like a classroom bully is not likely to continue bullying if his entourage stops egging him on."

11. Consider Meeting With A Therapist

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According to Stanford's Sexual Harassment Policy Office, sexual harassment can cause the victim to experience "anger, fear, self-consciousness or embarrassment" as well as physical problems like trouble sleeping or loss of appetite. It can also cause challenges with your ability to perform your job. If you are experiencing these side effects, it is important not to blame yourself. A licensed counselor can help you make sense of what you're coping with, and help you find next steps to resolve the issue or to help you remove yourself from the situation.