20

I am 25 year-old female and I am facing a difficult situation with a male colleague. He has been inappropriately touching me and I am confused on how to deal with it.

It all started one day as he was teasing another colleague and he pinched me descreetly on my arm, I thought it was odd but I said to myself he maybe wanted me to get the joke. Some sort of accomplice gesture. I was not feeling comfortable about it though.

The second time, I was in the office cafeteria getting my lunch out of the lunch box and he passed behind me and grabbed me by the waist but he did this so swiftly. I felt reaaally uncomfortable about it and it shocked me but yet again as he was behind me, I thought he might have just done this as a way to pass as he lacked space and did not want to push me.

The third time, he repeated the same grabbing of the waist but he squeezed me twice. I could definitely feel his hands squeezing me. At this point I am pretty sure this is not normal and I should speak about it. I just want to know if this can be considered sexual harassment? And what is the best way to deal with it? Should it be reported?

I also am a very shy person, I hate confronting people and to be honest I am afraid of retaliation.

Any advice would be very much appreciated.

  • 29
    If you don't want any kind of confrontation, you cannot solve this problem. – Masked Man Feb 25 '18 at 6:30
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    In which country or region are you? I'm asking because while what your colleague is doing is inapropiate everywhere, the support you might get if you need it is different. – DarkPurpleShadow Feb 25 '18 at 8:11
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    To me it seems that he's basically pushing very slowly your limits, and he'll use the basic "you'd never said anything to it so you were fine with it isn't it ?" So you have to speak up. Reporting direct to management when you didn't speak up once at least may backfire (like labelled as a troublemaker) as you didn't try to solve the problem on your own first. – Walfrat Feb 26 '18 at 12:19
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    In addition to specific advice on what to do, keep a written diary to document the date/time/location of the occurrences. A diary is a lot harder to refute than listing things from memory. – Peter M Feb 26 '18 at 12:33
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    Sometimes a flat "NO" is the best solution. We guys can be pretty clueless, and most of us really don't mean anything bad. Sure, that guy entered creep territory, but a firm "don't touch me" may solve the issue. – T. Sar Feb 26 '18 at 15:00
33

The first step you should take is to tell him directly, and the best moment is when he does it again. Tell him something simple like

Don't touch me

If for some reason you don't manage to tell him at the moment, you can tell him later. As an example:

I don't appreciate it when you touch me each time you walk past me, so stop it.

A good preparation to manage to do this while sounding self confident is to practice saying this at home. If you are not used to set your boundaries, once you do so you might feel guilty. I don't know if this works for everyone, but what might help is to go to some private place and to praise yourself. "I am smart, I am funny, I am proud on X, I was brave enough to set boundaries, etc".

If he still continues, you can tell your boss about the situation. Make sure to also tell him you already made clear he should not touch you.

Whatever happens, document all these incidents, with exact situation and time (as far as possible). Maybe you will need it for your boss, or your boss's boss if you are unlucky.

And last thing, and I want to make clear this is only for an extreme case, keep an eye on new job chances. If you are really unlucky and your company is fine with allowing harassment, you will probably want to get another job.

I wish you lots of success :)

  • 7
    Definitely agree with this, but would add to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible. You don't need to justify why someone has to stop touching you - they just need to stop. Also, don't give them an opportunity to argue their point. – corsiKa Feb 25 '18 at 17:04
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    If her company "is fine with allowing harassment" she may want to speak with a lawyer (which I am not) and file a police report... but most likely a lawyer first is a safer bet. – kleineg Apr 3 '18 at 16:51
  • @corsiKa While I agree that one shouldn't give them the opportunity to argue one's point, I find the second sentence well crafted (I would remove the "each time" as they might argue it's not each time). I think it is worth making explicit that one is not comfortable with the situation — it clears all ambiguity that they could have if they (still) think "(s)he says 'no' but [I know] (s)he means 'yes'". The fact one explains subjective feelings makes it impossible to deny. They can surely disagree ("Oh, it's a joke you know", "You should be more outgoing"), but can't deny it's embarrassing. – ebosi Nov 6 '18 at 9:03
12

Whenever something like that happens tell the guy right away that you don't like it. And in many cases that will solve the problem.

The problem with some (many?) guys is that they consider no reaction is a good reaction. They think if you don't say no this means yes. You didn't say no the first time(s) so the guy thinks something like "It seems she liked it. If she wouldn't like it she would have told me so". And with this "positive reaction" in mind the guy thinks about what he should/could do next. It will be something more and he will look at your reaction. And if you don't react (he thinks you like it) then there will be more and more...

You have to stop it as soon as possible. If a guy does anything to make you uncomfortable then tell him you don't like it and he should stop it. Or if it's bad then slap him in his face. He will understand that and likely he won't do it again.

Obviously it would be good if guys would see on your reaction that you don't like what they do. But some guys (or maybe many) are blind in that way. They don't see what they don't want to see.

  • 19
    Slapping him in the face will just give him an opportunity to turn it around and make OP look like the aggressor. I strongly recommend against doing this. – Joker28322 Feb 26 '18 at 5:58
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    @Joker28322: I guess it depends a lot on what the guy does. In the above case I also think slapping him would be too much. But if he or another guy would i.e. touch her bum or breasts then then I think slapping him would be appropriate. – Edgar Feb 26 '18 at 9:43
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    Physical violence in the workplace isn't ever justified, nor is harassment of any form, slapping even the harasser can be grounds for both individuals being released. – Ramhound Feb 26 '18 at 16:38
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    @Ramhound: I guess you remember the infamous Trump "grab her by the p...". In my opinion there are about two possible reactions to that. Option a is a slap in the face and option b is a kick to where it hurts. And I don't think any employer would dare to fire a woman who would react like that. – Edgar Feb 27 '18 at 0:10
  • @Edgar If I remember right then the slapping has happened to Trump. – gnasher729 Nov 2 '18 at 0:37
2

Companies that have done extensive research on sexual harassment will detail what sexual harassment is and the steps to take if you think you are being harassed- and they do this in a variety of ways. This could be in the form of a handbook, a hotline to call, dedicated personnel, and annual training.

Nowadays, most if not all employees are all on notice of what appropriate office conduct is and how to avoid harassment and report it. If they aren't then it's a problem with the company culture and lack of managerial oversight.

If you have an employee handbook- I would study it and take the appropriate action outlined. If your agency didn't provide one- there is your HR department that should know. And even in the absence of a dedicated HR dept- there is your immediate supervisor that should be able to help (I would think if you had to go to this level however- that your agency is seriously lacking and not being very progressive).

A good thing now, is to make a journal on the harassment- the who, what, when, where, and why of each inappropriate action. You will present these facts at some point- either to your supervisor, HR, or dedicated personnel.

If for some reason your organization has NO harassment training- and they are not helping you against further harassment- then I would quit that job on the grounds of sexual harassment, and provide all of your documentation to a lawyer working in your best interest. Let the lawyer speak on your behalf and do the work for you while you find employment elsewhere.

1

You don't have to be nice to people all the time. You need to stand up for yourself and maintain your dignity. You were shy until now. But, going forward you don't have to be. You need to express your views clearly. You don't like someone touching you, tell them. Complain about their behavior.

In a workplace, managers and HR are trained to handle these kind of situations. Complain to them. Also, be clear in what are the desired outcomes.

  • Do you just need an apology?
  • Do you want to be moved out of the team?
  • Do you want him to be moved out of the team?

Whatever outcome is that you want to be, don't be apologetic for that.

  • 3
    Obviously she can complain to HR and the management. But I think it would be even better if she tell the touching guy right away in his face before it goes to HR and the management. Is she complains to HR some people might think this is an overreaction. If she tell the touching guy to his face that problem can't occur and there is a good chance he will stop it. – Edgar Feb 25 '18 at 12:42
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    Since the OP has indicated that she wants to avoid confrontation and retaliation, going straight to HR/management is a bad idea for the first action. As much as HR departments will pretend to care about harassment, they exist strictly to service the well-being of the organization/owners. Going to HR should be a last resort. Much better approach this problem with @DarkPurpleShadow's answer. – teego1967 Feb 25 '18 at 15:34
  • @teego1967 I have stated that "You need to express your views clearly. You don't like someone touching you, tell them." Telling the offender is important and so is complaining about this kind of behaviour. – user149332 Feb 26 '18 at 13:24
  • @Edgar Complaining to the HR about sexual advancements can never be an overreaction. Many (wo)men really do not know how to express themselves clearly about these issues, irrespective of their age. If they fear about the reactions of the people, then they might always have a regret that they gave importance to others' opinions rather than their own problem. Also, I have clearly stated that "You need to express your views clearly. You don't like someone touching you, tell them." – user149332 Feb 26 '18 at 13:27
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    @user149332, HR should be a "last resort" option, before the next step which is either quitting or filing a police report. Don't be gullible in believing whatever is written in the employee manual. HR is trained to put the interests of their employer above all else and that often means getting rid of the whistleblower in due course. – teego1967 Feb 26 '18 at 15:37
1

Several people have already said that you should say something in the moment. While I agree it's better to say something immediately, you can still complain later if you have to. If you can't bring yourself to say something right then and there and/or say something directly to him, send him an email:

I wanted to say something about what happened at [date/time]. I am uncomfortable with the way you [action]. I need to know it won't happen again.

One benefit of doing it this way is that it both creates the diary Peter M suggested and proves you said something to him about his behavior.

0

I think it is a bit hard. On one hand it must be really annoying if you feel uncomfortable with that. On the other hand, specially if you are a shy person it must be hard to speak it out.

But I do believe you should speak it out. If I would be on your shoes I would talk directly to him. Find the right moment and place and tell him very clear you feel umconfortable about physical contact and he should avoid it.

If after that the problem continues, just scalate it.

-1

I guess the direct approach is the best option, but if you are shy, you could simply underline the gesture by looking at his hands or the point he touched. Let's say he touch your arm, just look at his hand, or your arm, then look straight at him (like you are asking "what is this?"). I found this way a bit better than vocalize a "stop touching me" as the glance will transport the guilty sensation to him, once you stare at him speechless, he must question himself about "what I've done wrong?".

  • You only mention one possible outcome, the other is the one where he thinks: "She's making contact, she questionably looks at my hand, do I see disappointment in her eyes because I let go, maybe it's time to hug her and finally find out if the affection is mutual!". Just tell what you think, leading him on by not telling him to stop didn't work in the past, why would it work now? – Hans Janssen Nov 2 '18 at 8:41
  • IMHO this is a smart solution. I think it will work quite effectively as he will feel ashamed and the problem might solve. – Worker Nov 8 '18 at 8:38
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Also, ma'am, I would stress to you – "go talk to Human Resources, tomorrow morning."

To start with, simply inform them (in complete confidentiality, of course) that "there's something going on right now which needs – legally and otherwise – to be of concern to them." Don't let them be the last ones to know: after all, this sort of thing "is their job." Ask them what they recommend.

And, please, at least for now, "graciously assume" that your co-worker means you no ill will, even though he is unquestionably out of line and must be stopped in doing what he is now doing. ("The question is, how best to do it.") Try not to throw the poor guy completely under the bus – but, don't put up with it.

-6

You should be very serious with him, don't joke or smile and avoid him, avoid looking at his eyes and take care of your movements, talk, the way you dress etc perhaps you flirt with him unconsciously. He is testing you, he looks at you sexually and wants to know your limits. Sometimes direct approach doesn't work, he could continue to do it even if you tell him to stop. You need to tell him NO with your body language, with your behavior, with your actions. To really mean it. But be careful, he could be even more persistent and sexual with you, so you must have patience and be even more persistent than him.

  • -1 "take it and be demure" was what had to happen in the 1950s but it's not considered necessary today. – mxyzplk Nov 4 '18 at 0:30
  • Did you really just suggest it has ANYTHING to do with the way shes dresses? – bruglesco Nov 5 '18 at 16:06
  • 1
    Saying No once is enough and she does not need to be patient. – Seth R Nov 6 '18 at 4:20
  • Unfortunately, that is how things are, many men are very sexual and they test women – VL86 Nov 6 '18 at 22:00
  • telling no to a child should be enough too but things don't function that way. I tell things based on my personal experiences with men, of course, everybody have a right to have their own opinion, I just gave my sincere advice – VL86 Nov 6 '18 at 22:03

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