The workplace should be emotionally safe for both employees and employers. However, far too many people do not feel so safe on the job. There are countless reports of verbal and sometimes physical conflicts and intimidations.
Perhaps the most insidious and common kind of problem on the job is sexual harassment. It is a problem that is very difficult, painful and often times embarrassing to talk about. Too often, it remains unchallenged because of threats, shame, intimidation and severe abuse of power.
In an article I wrote in May of 2009, I defined sexual harassment as unsolicited physical contact and advances toward someone. A demand or request for sexual favors; sexually-colored remarks with colleagues on the job; showing pornography; and any other unwelcomed physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
Interestingly, the victim could be the person harassed as well as anyone affected by the offensive conduct. Has your boss ever stopped by and rubbed your shoulders while he "checked out" the work you were doing? Or does your co-worker constantly stop by to flirt with you? A comment like, "Wow, you have sexy lips" can be sexual harassment.
Why is recognizing or reporting sexual harassment so difficult? First of all, the relationships we have in the workplace are a major part of our lives. It seems to be inevitable that interpersonal relations of some kind develop on the job. Not only do we go to work to earn a living; we also go to work for the social aspects of relating with people. Hence, the risk of sexual harassment is great on the job when this natural need for interpersonal relationships occurs where there are insecure, emotionally needy or flirtatious persons without proper personal boundaries.
One author states, "Like every other kind of intimacy, the workplace variety brings with it the likelihood of sexual attraction. It is natural. It is inevitable, hardwired as we are to respond to certain kinds of stimuli, although it sometimes comes as a surprise to those it strikes."
According to one international study, nine percent of employees indicated that they had a romantic relationship on the job, but an additional 33 percent said they didn't. On the other hand, 58 percent of employees said that they did not have a romantic encounter on the job but were willing to have one. Wow!
The workplace is also made up of persons who either experience conflicted relationships at home or are hungry for an innocent loving touch or a listening ear. If these persons are not aware of their own vulnerability, they will be high-risk targets for sexual harassment. They would not even know they are being sexually harassed until the direct requests for sexual favors are put forward.
The gentle touching, lingering handshakes, warm embraces at the beginning of the day, walking together with arms around the waist, sitting on each other's lap and eating together in the cafeteria would seem to be so innocent. But are these gestures really be innocent? To the unsuspecting persons, these friendly gestures might well be a set-up that may prove difficult to overcome.
In my 2009 article I presented the following alarming universal statistics -- 31 percent of female workers claim to have been harassed at work and seven percent of male workers claim to have been harassed at work; 62 percent of targets took no action; 100 percent of women claim the harasser was a man; 59 percent of men claim the harasser was a woman; 41 percent of men claim the harasser was another man. In The Bahamas more and more persons are reporting sexual harassment.
o Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.
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