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Living Safe, Living Free
Marie Turner A major problem at work is that of harassment. This may take many forms and have many motivations. People may be abused verbally or physically, be the victim of practical okes or be discriminated against because of their sex, race, religion or sexuality. Both the U.S. and Europe have legislation banning such discrimination and harassment. People may face similar abuse for other reasons such as family feuds, coming from a certain area, living in a certain district, having an unconventional appearance etc. In most legal jurisdictions companies are duty bound to provide a working atmosphere that is free from such abuse. There is then the problem of sexual harassment. This broadly comes in two main categories; personal, where one particular man is attracted to you (or resents you) and pesters you with persistent advances, gifts, messages etc. or impersonal where one or a group of men treat most women as sex objects.

In the personal form, a man may be attracted to you and not take 'no' for an answer. Once you have turned him down he is likely to take one of two very different courses of action. He may shower you with gifts, messages, poems, requests for a date etc. or he may become nasty, this could take the form of discrimination, threats, abuse, undermining work you are doing, putdowns etc. It could also take the form of spreading rumors about you to colleagues; such as "she made a pass at me and can't take rejection", "we had a one night stand and she was a right little goer", "we were seeing each other but I dumped her because she was no good in bed", etc. If a colleague persistently makes sexual remarks about you to other colleagues, this constitutes sexual harassment whether or not the remarks are true.

The impersonal form may take the form of men or a man unnecessarily touching touching women colleagues, topless photographs (posters, magazines etc.) being displayed in the workplace, obscene jokes being told or displayed (printing them out on a shared printer counts as 'displayed'), sexist remarks made about women who are within or outside the workplace. (e.g. "Wow, look at the boobs on her.") talking about the pornographic film they were watching last night, etc.

One type of harassment that may be either personal or impersonal is where a man frequently remarks on a woman's appearance. The remarks may be good or bad and may be directed at one woman or several women. If a male colleague makes complementary remarks on your appearance only occasionally this probably won't cause offence. Although this very much depends on the nature of the remark, compare "that's nice perfume you're wearing" to "you smell gorgeous today". It may also depend on where he is looking as he makes the remark if he takes a glance at you and says "nice dress", it is very different to him taking a long look at your legs/cleavage and saying "nice dress".

Try not to get too paranoid about the occasional well-meaning remark. It is not necessarily a precursor to harassment. If a man is making remarks that you find offensive, tell him that you'd rather he didn't make those sort of remarks.

In many cases of harassment it is the persistent nature of the offending behaviour rather than just one or two remarks which causes the problem. This can make it hard to make a complaint, as to an outsider saying that someone keeps sending you love poems, or that someone is persistently making inappropriate remarks, doesn't seem like much. Whatever form the harassment takes, whether it is racial, sexual or whatever, it should be dealt with in much the same manner. The best way is to keep some sort of record of such interactions even those which are not particularly bad.

In some cases it may be wise to keep a record of all interactions with the harasser. If, for instance, you only see someone a few times a week but on two out of three occasions they comment on your appearance, then this is more disturbing than two comments per week from someone you work with constantly.

You can either keep a written record or a taped one. A written record should detail the date, time and place of incidents, who else witnessed the incident, and exactly what happened, if something is said then the exact words used should be noted. A taped record may be necessary where there are no other witnesses to any incident, where the tone of voice used indicates something the written word will not, or where there is too much said at one time to accurately remember and write down. Where a taped record is used, also use a written record to detail where and when the incidents took place. Do not be afraid to note seemingly minor incidents for fear of seeming petty, as it is the accumulation of incidents that generally causes the problem. It should also be noted that where someone is trying to undermine you, it is best to keep your business dealing with them on record. Email is very useful for this as you can keep a record of mails sent requesting information or action. For instance if he requests that you give him last months reports, email them to him. If he specifically requests a paper copy, leave them on his desk and email him to tell him you have left them on his desk. Or email him offering some additional info or clarification.

In many cases it is wise not to complain at the first incident but record it and wait until there have been more incidents. This will counter allegations that you are complaining about nothing. Complaining about someone will warn them that you will complain and whilst they may stop some people, it may make others simply become more devious about how they harass you. Whether to complain immediately or not depends on the character you are dealing with or the seriousness of the incident. You simply have to use your judgment. If you are challenged as to why you did not report earlier incidents do not say, "I wanted to get more evidence to get him fired." Do say things like, "I thought it was a one off, I didn't want to cause trouble over something if it wasn't going to happen again."

Keep money or other valuables locked in your locker or desk whilst at work. Colleagues, cleaners, security staff and customers are all capable of theft. We often feel sale whilst at work and let our guard down but workplace theft is very common and most companies are reluctant to phone the police as it reflects badly on their reputation.

� Marie Turner

Marie Turner's guidelines on interpersonal relationships, well defined in this book, are a highly recommended read for your daughters, and other young women you know, who need wisdom beyond their years when making their choices. Jane

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