What to Say to the Target of Sexual Harassment

5 min

You won’t always be able to intervene in the moment when you see sexual harassment. But you should support the person who was sexually harassed by talking to them.

Here’s how to talk to the target of sexual harassment:

Name the behavior and offer to report it.

People often shut down when they are characterized as “victims.” It’s a phenomenon called “identity threat reaction.”

But you can name the behavior you witnessed, like so:

“I noticed that Anthoni touched you in a way you might not have been comfortable with. I wasn’t okay with it. I’d like to talk to him about it, but I wanted to talk to you first.”

“I overheard what Karissa said to you. I wasn’t comfortable with it. I’d like to talk to someone in HR about this, but I wanted to talk to you first.”

Be prepared to be brushed off.

The target of the sexual harassment may ask you not to report the harassment. They might be embarrassed or fear retaliation.

If that’s the case, don’t push it. You’re not there to be a hero. It’s enough that you’ve made yourself available to listen. And it might make the target of harassment feel supported, even if they don’t report the harassment.

If the target of the harassment requests that you don’t report it, and you're not a manager, you can report the harassment to your manager without mentioning the name of the target.

But if you are a manager, you have to include the person's name in your report, and your company is obligated to report the harassment.

Time for a quiz.

Yesterday, you witnessed a manager, Paul, show an explicit photo to one of his reports, Kieran. Today, you want to talk to Kieran about it. What should you say to him?

Quiz 1 of 1

What should you say to Kieran?

a
“Kieran, you shouldn’t have let Paul get away with showing you that picture.”
b
“Kieran, I saw Paul show you a gross picture. I’d like to go to HR about this, but I wanted to talk to you first. How do you feel?”
c
“Kieran, when Paul showed you that picture, he sexually harassed you. I’m going to go to HR for you today. Want to come with me?”
d
“Kieran, do you want to talk about what happened yesterday?”

Answer B: “Kieran, I saw Paul show you an inappropriate picture. I’d like to go to HR about this, but I wanted to talk to you first. How do you feel?”

This names the behavior but doesn’t put Kieran in the role of a victim.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP:


Hopefully, you won’t witness any sexual harassment at your job. But if you do, and you don’t (or can’t) intervene in the moment, follow up with the target of sexual harassment later.

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