Were you sexually harassed, assaulted or raped at work? Here's what steps you can take

For victims who decide to report sexual harassment or assault at work, outcomes can be unclear.  

Every case is different. Workplace policies are different. Law is different by state. Some might be handled within the company. Some might need police involvment. Some might be brought to court, with civil and/or criminal implications.

Lawyers say how victims report the harassment or assault matters greatly. 

How to report:

If a victim has been raped or assaulted, lawyers say reporting it to police quickly is important because of the statute of limitations (laws dictating the maximum time allowed to report a crime), which varies between states.

"It is important to act quickly, especially because the earlier they report, the more evidence there may be available to evaluate their own experiences," said Alexandra Harwin, senior litigation counsel with an emphasis on discrimination and harassment cases at Sanford Heisler Sharp. "Additionally, the earlier they report, the earlier this kind of unlawful conduct can be brought to a halt. That of course has benefits for them, the employees, and others who may be subjected to the same kind of conduct."

Those not comfortable with coming forward immediately can still take steps to document the incident privately: Write down what happened or tell a close friend or loved one. Having a record of what happened can help substantiate the story if a victim decides to come forward later.

If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. Those seeking medical help at a hospital can also tell medical professionals they'd wish to report the crime. 

Not sure whether or not to report your situation to the police? The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673) and a live chat on its website www.rainn.org.

Some situations might be best to report through work channels, depending on the company's sexual harassment protocols. Victims should also contact an employment lawyer who handles harassment cases so they understand their rights, said Kelly Dermody, partner and chair of the Employment Group at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein. Reporting the incident to HR does not meet the time limits for legal claims, Dermody said. So, the employee should also file a charge of harassment with the state or federal agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Also, telling a trusted coworker about the incident could be in the victims best interest, said Amy Blackstone, professor of Sociology at The University of Maine with a focus on workplace harassment. If possible, bring that "advocate" to the meeting where the incident is reported. 

More available resources:
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: 1-800-669-4000
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
National Organization for Victim Assistance: 800-879-6682
National Association of Working Women: 1-800-522-0925
Equal Rights Advocates: 415-621-0505
National Center for Victims of Crime: 1-800-FYI-CALL
National Street Harassment Hotline: 855-897-5910

Do you have a case?

If someone has forced you to have sex or perform sexual acts, that person likely faces criminal charges, said Jennifer Long, chief executive officer of AEquitas: The Prosecutors' Resource on Violence Against Women. Same goes for anyone who has touched your breast, butt or genitals, undressed you or undressed in front of you without your permission. Some incidents might fall into civil cases, usually meaning victims are entitled to financial compensation. Those might include verbal sexual harassment. 

Some incidents can be both civil and criminal cases. So, the victim could receive money and the abuser could be sent to prison. 

"Asking someone repeatedly for dates or threatening to fire someone if they don’t have sex are generally handled civilly," said Dermody, who's been involved in high-profile discrimination cases. "Stalking, physically assaulting, undressing without consent are generally both civil and criminal."

If a victim has grounds for a case, it could take anywhere from months to several years to see a result depending on the state and claims. In harassment claims, most jurisdictions do have limit of about 10 months from the last act, Dermody said. 

"A victim should be prepared for it to be slower than she/he wants, that it may be emotionally tough to repeat the stories over and over, and that it is important to have a support system," Dermody said. "But unless victims speak up, this behavior will never stop. Just being willing to fight can restore a sense of personal control and can also save others from being victims."

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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