How to Intervene Against Sexual Harassment When You See It

6 min

If you see sexual harassment going on, whether through a comment or an overt action, intervene. Do what you can to stop sexual harassment.

There are several tactics you can use in the moment if you see sexual harassment happening.

Interrupt the harassment.

A lot of sexual harassment takes place in private. If you break up that privacy, you can give the target of the harassment a chance to leave.

For example, if you see someone inappropriately touching a colleague in the kitchen, you could drop your coffee cup and loudly apologize.

Throw the target of harassment a lifeline

Say “Hey, so-and-so was looking for you.” Or “Were you still planning on joining us for lunch?”

If you see an uncomfortable “flirtation” at an office party, walk up to the pair of people and ask them what they’re talking about.

The target of harassment might not take you up on your "lifeline". If they don't, don’t push it. You’re not there to be a hero; you’re there to offer help.

Engage the person doing the harassment.

Strike up a conversation with the person doing the harassment. Say “I’ve been meaning to ask you about XYZ,” or “How was your vacation?”

All of these tactics de-escalate the situation. You’re not getting in anyone’s face; you’re not swooping in to save the day. You’re just giving the target of the harassment an out.

Time for a quiz.

You walk by the copy room and you overhear your coworker Jude ask an intern, Ayanna, if she’d like to get a drink with him after work. She does not seem comfortable with the situation. What’s something you can say to intervene?

Quiz 1 of 1

What’s something you can say to intervene in this situation?

a
“Hey, Ayanna, you don’t seem comfortable. Are you okay?”
b
“Daniel, stop harassing Ayanna or I’ll go to HR.”
c
“Daniel, are you sure you want to ask Ayanna on a date? It seems inappropriate.”
d
“Ayanna, I need your help with something. Can you come with me for a few minutes?

Answer D: “Ayanna, I need your help with something. Can you come with me for a few minutes?”

The other answers are confrontational, and could embarrass Ayanna or escalate the situation.

If Ayanna does come with you, you might have to admit that you don’t need help with anything. You can be honest with her: you thought she might have been uncomfortable in that situation and so you wanted to give her an opportunity to leave.

You can also improvise and ask her for feedback on something you’re working with.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP:

There's a chance that you'll witness some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. If you do, use one of the tactics in this lesson to interrupt it.

Lesson complete

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