One of the most challenging parts of coping with workplace harassment frequently occurs after survivors have left their job for the day. Many survivors cope with their harassment by opening up to their friends and family about their experiences as a method of healing. By sharing, survivors open themselves up to unwarranted critique and trivialization which can leave survivors feeling revictimized when reaching out for help.
In order to be an asset, ally and activist it's vital to purposefully choose language to assist survivors in their experience. We have included a number of caution phrases to avoid saying to survivors. Harassment impacts everyone in a community and through deliberate and judicious language, we can empathetically and capably respond.
"Just ignore it"
- Unfortunately, some of these issues cannot be ignored because they happen on a continuous basis and starts to take a mental toll on the person who it is affecting. In some cases, ignoring the situation can encourage aggressors to increase their level of intimidation to warrant a response from their target.
"Getting hit on is a compliment"
- First of all, apart from being unprofessional, this type of "flirting" is done in a malicious manner. It is meant to intimidate, diminish and objectify. This phrase is a form of victim blaming wherein survivors are charged with misconstruing intentions.
- This phrase undermines the person who is sharing their concerns with you and dismisses their concerns. For those who report harassment it is a big deal and remember: it is them experiencing it, not you. By telling survivors that they are responding too impassioned to their experiences of oppression sends them the message that the status quo should be maintained and that their emotions are unwarranted.
"Yeah but it's just harassment, it's not like you were assaulted"
- Any type of harassment is intimidation and it is meant to do mental and emotional harm. To survivors, this form of harassment may be more damaging than physical harm. This language sets the bar to a perceivably high extent, subtly assuring survivors that they should not take action unless it is considered assault. It can also communicate that survivors are "lucky" to not have been assaulted. "It could always be worse" is a popular variation of this phrase.
"Let Human Resources fix it"
- This is easier said than done. Going to HR and making a claim takes time. HR cannot always outright fire the harasser or even tell you what was said to the harasser to halt any further action. In a lot of cases, the harasser ends up retaliating. Survivors may also be exposed to invasive questioning, mismanagement of sensitive information and third party mediating. There is no guarantee that HR will fully address the problem.
"Work harassment really doesn't happen anymore"
- If you believe that is the case, you have been living under a rock for far too long.
"They're just old (wo)men, the don't mean anything by it"
- Yes, they do. Especially if you have confronted them about it and they keep continuing the harassment. No matter what the aggressor's demographics, they too, must be held accountable for their actions. Harassers can take all of physical forms, genders and identities. There isn't a demographic "excused" from purporting respect simply because of who they are.
"Just get another job if it bothers you so much"
- Most people cannot afford to do this due to economic pressure or the risk of losing income or benefits. Leaving a job could be a short term solution but it's not a choice every survivor has the capability to make. If action isn't taken to rectify toxic work environments, they will remain even after a survivor moved onto a new job.
"It's like this at every workplace"
- Many workplaces hold a high code of behavior and work hard to deter workplace harassment. These workplaces care about creating an environment of respect and care about the safety and well-being of their employees. Nevertheless, it's the law for employers to act swiftly and effectively to curtail problems (though unfortunately this is not executed properly enough).
"Why didn't you say something earlier"
- For many people, coming out with their problems is a struggle. Revealing the truths about injustice can have powerful impacts. Survivors can suffer retribution, professional sabotage and further physical and psychological abuse as a direct result of divulging their experiences. This leaves many survivors exposed and raw; considering they have already survived harassment, this may not be possible on a preordained time-line. It can be hard to report these incidents and every situation is unique and challenging.