For nearly three years, Washburn University has offered a sexual harassment seminar for new employees.
A student-focused demonstration is also provided for various campus organizations, including Washburn athletes and the debate team. The seminar provides educational training for recognizing sexually inappropriate behavior and language.
It also covers the steps that should be taken should an individual find him or herself being harassed on campus.
Upon being hired, employees are required to attend the seminar. They must also attend a follow-up presentation on sexual harassment prevention three years following employment.
The idea for the seminar originated with Pam Fostor, Washburn’s equal opportunity director. Foster felt an in-person presentation would allow for more interactive, in-depth training than the sexual harassment web course that had previously been used by the university.
Foster leads each seminar, where she discusses the policies and procedures involved when complaints are made or someone is called in as a witness to a sexual harassment case.
For the first forty-five minutes of each seminar, she uses vignettes to hypothesize sexual harassment scenarios. Foster also covers “bystander strategies,” techniques on how to respond to a situation in which you are a witness, but are not the person being harassed.
Sexual harassment training is necessary because harassment is not always blatantly obvious.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment constitutes harassment.”
“Some individuals do not report harassment cases until several months or years after an incident occurs,” Fostor said.
Delayed incident reports may occur when someone fears that he or she is making a big deal out of nothing, won’t be believed or can handle the situation on his or her own.
Many victims do not want to be accused of overreacting. Others do not want to be labeled as a person who threatens a seemingly positive environment with negativity.
Unfortunately, these fears also affect some victims of sexual assault.
“People will blame themselves for what happened,” Foster said.
Victim-blaming is a very real likelihood too. Victims risk being accused of provoking their harasser/attacker, engaging in conduct of poor taste or not adequately vocalizing their non-consent.
Although women are more likely to report being sexually harassed, it also occurs to men. The prevalence of male-inflicted harassment is unknown, however, because of the tendency of men to not speak up about being victimized.
In Foster’s experience, men are more inclined to report being stalked.
If Washburn employees or students find themselves being harassed, they should immediately contact Foster. Her priority is to take measures to ensure that the harassment ceases.
“Sometimes, people need support, depending on the severity of what happened and how traumatized they may be,” Fostor said.
Support for harassment victims typically includes counseling, group therapy or holistic treatments.