What to Say to Someone Who Commits Sexual Harassment

7 min

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to people you see committing sexual harassment.


You should.

Here’s how to talk to someone who you’ve seen commit sexual harassment:

1. Don’t assume intent


Don’t “accuse” anyone. That could make them defensive and shut down the conversation, and they won’t learn anything.

For example:


"
I don’t know if you were trying to make people uncomfortable. I just wanted to let you know what’s going on. You’ve been texting Tim late at night, asking him out. I don’t think that’s right."

2. Name the behavior, and be specific


Don’t mince words, but don’t exaggerate. Just say what you saw.

For example:


"I’m not sure what you meant by it, but you asked Elizabeth up to your hotel room at last night’s mixer..."

3. Say how you feel about it


Rather than make a threat (“That’s sexual harassment. It could get you fired!”), just say how the behavior makes you feel.

You can be straightforward.


If it makes you uncomfortable, say that. If it makes you angry, say that.

For example:


“I’m not sure what you meant by it, but I heard you make a comment about Jenn’s body. I’m not comfortable with that.”

Naming the person who was harassed could put a target on their back. You could also leave their name or names out of it.

For example:


"I heard that you touched someone’s leg in your office the other week. I don’t like hearing about that."

Only confront the person doing the harassment if you’re sure they won’t retaliate against you. Don’t put yourself in danger. You can always report the harassment to HR.

Time for a quiz.


You overheard one of your colleagues, August, tell another one of your colleagues, Carolina, a graphic sexual story. You want to confront August. What should you say to him?

Quiz 1 of 1

What should you say to August?

a
“Hey, I’ve heard you’ve been sexually harassing people. I don’t think you’re trying to hurt anyone, but it has to stop. It’s illegal.”
b
“I heard you tell Carolina that explicit story. That’s sexual harassment, and it’s illegal. I don’t think you were trying to sexually harass anyone, but I wanted to point out that that’s how it could be interpreted.”
c
“I heard you tell Carolina that explicit story. That makes me really uncomfortable. I don’t think you wanted to make anyone feel that way, but I wanted to let you know what I noticed.”
d
“I heard that you’ve been doing some things that have made people uncomfortable."

Answer C: “I heard you tell Carolina that explicit story. That makes me really upset. I don’t think you wanted to make anyone feel that way, but I wanted to let you know what I noticed.”


In this answer, you’re just naming the behavior and the impact it had. You’re not accusing August of being a harasser or bad person, so he’s less likely to get defensive.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP:


If you see a peer committing sexual harassment, confront it.

Lesson complete

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