Reporting sexual harassment in the workplace

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Sexual harassment allegations continue to surface against a growing number of men in positions of power. Many victims are sharing their experiences in hopes of preventing further behavior from happening in the future.

"Everyone deserves to be looked at and viewed with respect," said Amy Dilworth, the executive director of the Family Justice Center.

As people impacted by this issue continue to speak up, several companies are sending a message of zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace.

"You have someone who is creating a sexualized environment that is intimidating, hostile, uncomfortable," said Dilworth.

Jennifer Rittenhouse, the founder of RDI-HR adds, "Anything from a culture that allows sexual comments, sexual innuendos to happen. That's one end of the spectrum. The other is the quid pro quo, which is this for that."

Rittenhouse has a consulting company that helps organizations improve work culture. She says the first step to handle sexual harassment is to confront it, head on.

"Just comment. Say something. Not appropriate," said Rittenhouse.

If your business has a human resources department, it's helpful to report the behavior so your work can investigate your claims.

"Tell me what happened, who was present and anyone there? Go through, try to understand the picture," said Rittenhouse.

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Once someone reports a problem to management, the supervisor must take effective action to ensure the behavior doesn't continue. Otherwise, the company could be liable.

It's also always a good idea to document everything that happens.

"On this date, this happened and I said this to this individual, and then the next day this happened. The more specific that you are in those situations, the better that will be to show that you've tried to address this on your own," said Rittenhouse.

Every case is different and every place has its own policies, but Amy Dilworth with the Family Justice Center says it's crucial to have your voice heard.

"It's about power and control. So you're afraid of that power and what can happen to you. That's what keeps the secret," said Dilworth.

A sexual harassment investigation at work can go anywhere from a conversation to a verbal warning to a written warning and termination. In some cases, prosecution is possible.

Other than reporting sexual harassment to your human resources department, if your work has one, experts say victims can benefit from counseling and support groups so they don't feel alone.

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