DEDICATED TO IMPROVING THE LIVES OF BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE

Sexual Harassment at the Workplace – In Person or Virtually – and What To Do

Vanita, a woman who is visually impaired, wrote “I would earlier think that men harass me because I can’t see. But when I spoke to other blind and sighted friends I came to know that all women face this. Only that we blind are more prone. Then I understood that I should be confident, strong, and use my wits in such a situation.” Another reader wrote to sexualityanddisability.org, “a website that starts with the premise that women who are disabled are sexual beings – just like any other woman,” about the discomfort she experienced when the person helping her cross the road kept brushing against her. In a focus group, visually impaired women who had similar experiences most often did not speak out. Although based in India, the website speaks to issues women with vision loss face around the world. Their answer: “You can ask the person to take off his hand. Speak loudly, so that the people nearby can hear it. Someone will …help … Be confident and assertive, follow your instincts and be assured that you are in the right.”

In the Virtual Workplace: “Sexual harassment does not always occur face-to-face or by touch; video conferences, emails and texts, and collaboration platforms like Slack are also delivery methods,” states Talent Culture in a #Work Trends podcast on Sexual Harassment in Virtual Workplaces.  While Forbes magazine reported that incidents of sexual harassment have decreased while people work remotely, the number of hits from an online search indicate that sexual harassment is certainly a consideration in virtual work. Requests, comments, and jokes from supervisors or coworkers in emails, video chats or company messaging apps all constitute harassment. Actions to take: state your objection to the harasser immediately; turn off the camera if it’s not required; make sure the meeting is secure; interrupt the meeting and tell the host harassment is occurring; record the meeting, take a screen shot, or document the video and report to HR. 

Prevent Connect funded by the CDC (among others) is hosting a national teleconference on April 27 titled “Questions and Conversations Around Preventing Sexual Harassment in Virtual, At-Home Workspaces and Educational Settings.” While the conference is primarily aimed at practitioners in the field of violence and harassment prevention, the topic should be of interest to many in vocational rehabilitation regarding sexual harassment of blind workers as well. For information and registration.