Women have fought very hard to have a place in this world. Equality is being realized now. But they are finding that merely having equal pay and opportunities are not enough. Women are currently taking one of the most important stands, and likely, one that is long overdue. They now include equal respect in their quest for egalitarianism, which is why women need to be fully informed on the subject of sexual harassment to ensure their safety and protect their dignity. They should keep the following in mind to avoid harmful situations (as accused or victim) and learn how to recover when things have gone too far:
1. Safeguard. It is imperative that you safeguard yourself from unwanted advances, or from being perceived as making advances, by giving no margin for error.This mindset may be difficult to believe, but men and women can and will perceive an open door even when there isn’t any. This door may only be questionable to the onlooker; no one else would ever think you were giving off the wrong signals. Nevertheless, don’t underestimate what someone might perceive as a green light. All too often, I’ve seen blurred lines cause trouble that no one ever saw coming. It took me years to understand that I might be sending the wrong messages. Regardless of how safe you feel with an individual, or however friendly you might be, I always like to play by the “better safe than sorry” rule.
2. Take a stand. Often, intimidation can be a factor in whether or not you keep your dignity intact. Whenever there is a power differential, it can knock the strongest woman off center. Fight or flight kicks in and shuts down any healthy, constructive responses that you would have access to in any normal situation. You may fear that by turning him or her away or simply not responding to their advances may jeopardize your position. It’s time to rethink this, ladies! There are very tactful and powerful ways to protect your dignity and define your position.
3. Know how to communicate your boundaries clearly. Even when you’re not quite sure of someone’s intentions, you must communicate your boundaries. Through not only my clinical experience with women, but also in my own life, I would find myself in the presence of a co-worker, a boss, a friend, a clerk that I may see regularly, or a colleague that I really liked, but at some point, I would begin to feel that they may be wanting more than a friendship. Because of the nature of the relationship, I may question my interpretations and feel uncomfortable saying anything. You may find your inner dialogue saying something like, “Get over yourself; how presumptuous of you!” or, “What if I insult them by commenting and they didn’t think anything at all?” I too have experienced the fear of being wrong, saying something and looking dumb, or worse yet, offending someone I care about. Oftentimes, things can get out of hand because clear boundaries were not communicated. My quick and easy answer to that is my mantra, “better safe than sorry.” You can communicate your boundaries with kindness and humility and not allow their reaction to deter you from your point. Whether it is someone you care about or not, you must learn the various steps you can take using your language, voice intonation, and how you carry yourself to make sure you give the correct message and avoid giving the wrong one at all times. If someone doesn’t appreciate your attempt at not hurting them or leading them on, it is simply not your concern.
4. What to do when it doesn’t stop. Be proactive. I can’t stress a few points strongly enough: Document, document, document! Know the correct steps to document information. Strong documentation will be your most reliable defense.
Above all, expect respect! Remember that no one will ever respect you more than you respect yourself at any given time.