If you witness sexual harassment in the workplace, you may be tempted to turn a blind eye. However, know that as a witness, you can play a crucial role in supporting the victim of harassment and prevent future occurrences entirely.
As a person secure in his or her career, you may feel uncomfortable “rocking the boat,” so to speak. Yet, you have a right and responsibility to your peers to intervene and report the incident. The National Partnership for Women and Families encourages you to practice the Five D’s when responding to instances of sexual harassment you witness in the workplace.
If you feel it is safe and appropriate to do so, directly confront the harasser and address his or her behavior in the moment. Inform him or her that his or her behavior is inappropriate, hostile or intimidating and that you would like it to stop.
If you feel uncomfortable directly addressing the situation, consider distraction. Rather than focusing on the aggressor or calling out his or her actions, engage with the targeted person. Doing something as simple as asking him or her a question can give both of you the opportunity to escape the situation.
If you feel comfortable neither directly or indirectly intervening, seek out a third party who can and will. Consider asking a supervisor, trusted friend, human resources officer or security officer.
There may be some situations in which you cannot successfully intervene. When these occur, follow up with the targeted person or persons after the fact. Offer your support. Also consider documenting the incident and giving your report to the targeted person for him or her to decide what to do with it.
If you feel the incident is pressing enough, and if you believe the issue is ongoing, consider recording it. If you do not have a recording device handy, job down the details of what you witness. Follow up with the targeted person to see what he or she would like you to do with the information you gathered. Do not share the report without the target person’s consent.
While the person who experiences harassment should ultimately decide how to proceed, you have every legal right to report the incident. If the victim remains hesitant, see what you can do to support him or her throughout the reporting process, and reassure him or her that you will serve as a witness.