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10 Things You Need to Know Before You File a Complaint About Sexual Harassment

27/01/2014 16:33 GMT | Updated 29/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Jimmy Savile? Say no more. Here's 10 things you need to know before file a complaint about sexual harassment...

1. Men who habitually harass women operate under the false assumption that their habits and behaviours are normal amongst 'red blooded males'. The 'false consensus effect' is a cognitive bias which is heavily influenced by social environment. It explains why certain companies, or institutions, such as the BBC, or Westminster, seem to foster a culture of predatory sexual behaviour.

2. However the assumption that it is only women who experience sexual harassment is inaccurate. A 2013 study by law firm Slater & Gordon found that 50% of women and 40% of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. The law against sexual harassment is supposed to protect both men and women. It also includes people who are undergoing, have undergone, or are intending to undergo gender reassignment.

3. Sexual harassment can take many forms: lewd sexual remarks, jokes or comments, unwanted knee touching, pinching, patting or kissing, offensive texts or emails, leering, sexual gestures, or verbal harassment. It can be a one-off incident, or a series of incidents. Women can submit details of their personal experiences of sexual harassment to The Everyday Sexism Project.

4. Some people are so lacking in self-awareness that they sexually harass people without even realising that they are doing anything wrong. If this happens, simply telling them to stop or writing them a letter explaining how their words or actions made you feel (keep a duplicate copy) may put an end to the problem.

5. As a precaution, you should also make a written record of any incident of sexual harassment and give it to your boss or your human resources department immediately. Record the time, date and location of any incidents, what was said or done and who was involved. That way, if it happens again, you have already begun to create a paper trail of evidence.

6. Sexual harassment is against the law, but that doesn't stop it happening. A study of 3,434 female workers which was carried out by legal experts at AdviseMeBarrister.com, found that over half (1,760) had experienced some form of verbal harassment at work. Four in 10 of the women had been touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, and 27% had been kissed by someone despite spurning their advances.

7. Any complaint of sexual harassment should be taken seriously, but this doesn't necessarily happen either. When Lord Rennard allegedly sexually harassed Alison Smith (she was an aspiring Lib Dem activist at the time), she filed an immediate complaint to then chief whip Paul Burstow, but nothing happened.

8. The Lord Rennard case also demonstrates how difficult it can be to prove a case of sexual harassment. Despite the testimony of four reliable female witnesses and credible evidence that the women's personal space was violated, Alistair Webster argued there was a less than 50% chance that Lord Rennard would be found guilty of sexual harassment.

9. Once a person makes a formal complaint, retaliation and backlash are common. If the accused is the person's boss, the complainant may find that they are subsequently denied work or academic opportunities. Their colleagues may distance themselves in order to protect their own jobs and they risk having their appearance, private life, and character scrutinised in an effort to undermine them. Out of 24% of women who were physically assaulted by a senior member of staff, 5% subsequently lost their job and more than 10% were turned down for a promotion (Slater& Gordon 2013).

10. Less than one third of women who endure sexual harassment in the workplace are brave enough to report it. One woman who was interviewed by sociologist Helen Watson concluded that "facing up to the crime and having to deal with it in public is probably worse than suffering in silence. I found it to be a lot worse than the harassment itself." It takes enormous courage and resilience to challenge harassment, but it is the only way to stamp out sexual bullying in the workplace.