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This happened over a year ago so there's not much point bringing it up at work now, but I did see a senior (male) colleague repeatedly masturbating in the office. At the time I (also male, junior) was taken aback and didn't really know what to do. It made me feel uncomfortable, and I still can't look at this colleague the same way now. It's not abhorrent behaviour in and of itself; everyone masturbates, but not at work in view of people, come on.

The incidents happened during the evening when most people had gone home. We were in different rooms, but I could see him through a window from where I sat. He could kind of see me but I had a better view of him. He never did it when anyone was in the room with him. I don't know whether he was aware that he was visible to me - he could see me if he looked, so I think he probably was aware.

This colleague is very senior, well-known and respected, and is very good at his job. That was one reason why I didn't say anything at the time; losing him would be a fairly large blow to the company.

Another reason I didn't say anything was that it felt very awkward doing so. Usually I'm pretty direct, but I couldn't bring myself to go up to him and say:

Oh by the way, I saw you masturbating and it made me feel uncomfortable, please don't do that.

Or going to my manager/HR and saying something similar.

So ultimately I let it be. I don't know if anyone else was aware of it.

Since then I haven't seen him masturbating at work.

I don't want to get him in trouble, and I certainly don't want to get him fired - he's a nice enough guy, maybe he was going through a rough patch in life, I don't know. But I want to know what the most appropriate way to get him to stop at the time would have been, because it did happen for several weeks, and it did distract me and make me feel uncomfortable.

I have spoken to close friends about it, and they mostly say that I should have raised it with HR - but I don't think they appreciate how uncomfortable the whole thing made me feel. It's easy for others to say what you should do when they don't have to do it themselves.

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  • @StephanBranczyk I want to know what the most appropriate way to get him to stop at the time would have been.
    – Touchdown
    Nov 15 '20 at 8:06
  • @StephanBranczyk that's not a bad idea - I think he would have been able to deduce that it was from me, but even so that's probably the least awkward/intense option.
    – Touchdown
    Nov 15 '20 at 8:10
  • 3
    I’m voting to close this question because this is a discussion about a past event. If the person restarts the behavior then go ahead and post.
    – mcknz
    Nov 15 '20 at 9:22
  • 19
    @mcknz why would that be a valid close reason? We can learn from past events just fine. Nov 15 '20 at 9:56
  • 1
    @TymoteuszPaul I was thinking this falls under "I want to have a discussion about..." which are the kinds of questions we tend to discourage. I'm always unsure about hypotheticals but I'm not strongly opposed to keeping this one open.
    – mcknz
    Nov 15 '20 at 21:11
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I think when your goal is to solve such a problem with minimal damage to the offender is to send an anonymous email to HR to tell them about the situation without giving the names of him or yourself.

If you are lucky HR will just issue a stern warning to everyone that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and will not go on a hunt for the offender.

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  • "So we got this anonymous email that you've been taking liberties in the office. Care to respond?"
    – mcknz
    Nov 15 '20 at 9:23
  • 4
    message-to-all -> "We got information that someone is masturbating at the office in the evening. This has to stop immediately. This is the first and final warning before we take further actions" Nov 15 '20 at 12:02
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he could see me if he looked, so I think he probably was aware.

You were part of his floor show.

If you don't want to make drama over it then don't do anything. But you should have absented yourself from being part of the action at the time by drawing curtains or moving to where you cannot see him. He would have soon noticed that as well.

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1. Leave an anonymous, private note

As StephanBranczyk said in his (now deleted?) comment, a relatively drama-free way to make it known to the offender that their behaviour is being noticed and isn't acceptable is to leave an anonymous note. I'd probably put it in an envelope and leave it on his desk with a message like:

Dear colleague, I have witnessed your 'behaviour' in the evenings and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Please stop otherwise I will inform HR.

Then, if that doesn't work:

2. Anonymously inform HR

As thieupepijn said in his answer.

I think these answers best fit my requirements.

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But I want to know what the most appropriate way to get him to stop at the time would have been, because it did happen for several weeks, and it did distract me and make me feel uncomfortable.

You do so by reporting it to HR.

While I appreciate that you do not want to get this person in trouble, there is no circumstances that explains doing such a thing in what can be public view - and whatever precautions he may have been taking clearly were not enough. The only way to resolve it and be sure of it is to report the matter and let them tackle it. Maybe after a stern talking to he will at least utilize the bathroom if he cannot control his needs before getting home.

I have spoken to close friends about it, and they mostly say that I should have raised it with HR - but I don't think they appreciate how uncomfortable the whole thing made me feel.

Reporting it to HR is going to be a lot less uncomfortable than having to walk in on your colleague's "activity" again. And if you don't report it, then in all likelihood it will keep on happening to you and/or others. Think about how uncomfortable you feel, and now multiply it by other people who will get to see it and also not feel in position to report it. The sooner it's reported, the sooner it's acted on and that's in everyone's best interest - including the colleague who clearly needs some help.

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Since he didn't do it with anybody obviously around it might have been he didn't realize he could be observed.

My inclination would be to take a picture and leave it on his desk with a note "you're not as alone as you think." Keep it anonymous.

If he didn't realize he was being observed that should end it. If he knew that's a much bigger issue and take it to HR.

0

He knew you were seeing and wanted you to see. Probably trolling to see if you would like it. But whatever. I would've taken a picture & then told him to knock it off. If he did it again I would go straight to HR with the pic.

Maybe somebody took that picture & told him that and that's why he stopped. Usually people who do inappropriate stuff on the job keep escalating or at least trying it with more people till something bad happens to them.

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