A 10-Point Strategy For Responding To Sexual Harassment – Part 2

A 10-Point Strategy For Responding To Sexual Harassment - Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

Power Tactic #1: Gather your own power. This is an explicit attempt to change the power dynamic between you and your abuser by enhancing or consolidating your own power. First, it is particularly important to take good care of yourself physically and emotionally during this time, as the stress and uncertainty of it will take its toll. Second, study up on the rules and regulations of your workplace, so that you have full knowledge of your rights and privileges established by the rules—as well as the constraints and limitations on the harasser’s behavior—so that you can leverage them when necessary. Finally, hold strongly to your own self-concept of goodness and decency and refuse to submit to the derogatory self-image that others may try to impose on you. In other words, try to maintain and bolster your own physical, procedural, and psychological power, particularly under these circumstances.

Power Tactic #2: Gather your friends and documents. Another tactic is to change the power dynamic at work by gathering and strengthening alliances. This might mean getting confirmation of the abuse from others or organizing several people (including male allies) from a department to go above the abuser together to express your concerns. Or it could involve something more elaborate such as when workers from Walmart organized labor demonstrations and strikes in 28 stores across 12 states to protest the company’s retaliation against workers who spoke out against harassment. Ideally, victims of workplace sexual harassment should also document, document, document (dates, locations, statements, actions by the perpetrator, conversations with insiders, etc.) and be able to point to the fact that they spoke to them soon after the harassment took place.

Power Tactic #3: Practice Jujitsu. The great community activist Saul Alinsky once wrote, “Since the Haves publicly pose as the custodians of responsibility, morality, law, and justice (which are frequently strangers to each other), they can be constantly pushed to live up to their own book of morality and regulations.” In other words, sometimes the harassed can use the rules, policies, and power of the harasser to silence them. For instance, there are many instances of women naming and shaming abusive leaders—priests, rabbis, politicians, and CEOs—publically and effectively into submission. This now constitutes active noncooperation, which may very well backfire unless it is leveled carefully. But the reputations and the legitimacy of abusers becomes a fair game at some point, particularly as a later resort.

Power Tactic #4: Reduce the organization’s power through organized noncooperation. Ultimately, organizations are responsible for their employees’ actions, no matter how high up they sit. Noncooperation against the organization is a form of nonviolent protest or resistance that can be effective. But to be done well, it must be conducted strategically. Tactics of noncooperation are very likely to backfire unless a full strategy has been developed and is implemented with an eye to adaptation. Our history texts are full of examples in which nonviolent protests resulted in catastrophes for the protestors. But the same texts also feature brilliant illustrations of protests and social movements that were greatly advanced through the use of noncooperation.

Power Tactic #5: Take their power. If all else fails, it may be time for direct legal action. This tactic, obviously, is the most costly. But it should always be considered as a viable option; a backup plan should all else fail. At this stage, it may make sense to hire your own legal team separate from the legal department internal to the organization. Hiring an outside legal team is often the only way to put the victim on an equal footing with a powerful male perpetrator who is valued by the organization.

Sexual harassment is revolting and should be met with resistance. The major onus to rid our society of such acts falls squarely those of us who contribute in ways big and small to a hostile, sexist, misogynistic culture. However, it can also be resisted directly by those targeted in a manner that is both effective and has the fewest negative consequences for the abused.


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Peter T. Coleman
Peter T. Coleman, author of The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts, is associate professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, and on the faculty of Teachers College and The Earth Institute at Columbia. In 2003, he received the Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association, Division 48: Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. He lives in New York.

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