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What to Do


Image Credit: Cedis, Freie Universität Berlin

Helpful Advice

According to a study carried out in 2014, three out of five women in Europe will experience sexualized harassment in the course of their lives (see European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights [2014]: Violence against Women: An EU-wide survey). This is on top of attacks on transgender and intersex people as well as men. This makes it startlingly clear that sexualized harassment, discrimination, and violence are serious problems in our society and that we all play a crucial role in ensuring the self-determination and personal rights of our colleagues, fellow students, and acquaintances.

How You Can Help

Breaking the taboo and making the issue an open subject for discussion – by addressing the topic in a team meeting, for example – is key to countering sexualized harassment, discrimination, and violence. This lays the foundation for being able to tackle the subject in a holistic manner and engage in awareness-raising measures (such as in the course of further training). Where dealing with a specific incident, any measures taken should always foreground the affected person’s wishes. They should set the pace, and they should make the decision as to whether or not to speak about the incident, or whether or not to file an official complaint. Their wishes must be respected.

In this respect, it is important for us to examine our own conduct and experiences, acknowledge personal boundaries, and reflect on our behavior. Perhaps you can take cues from questions like: When are my own boundaries overstepped? To what extent do my ideas about privacy and sexual boundaries speak to other people’s experiences? This line of self-questioning can serve as the basis for clear arrangements and regulations on how to handle violations of boundaries and sexualized harassment, discrimination, and violence that are understandable for everyone. The Freie Universität’s regulations provide a basis for talking about issues of sexualized harassment, discrimination, and violence.

How to Proceed in a Difficult Situation

If you have been discriminated against by another person on the basis of your gender or sexual orientation, then you can intervene as you see fit and speak to this person in a one-to-one conversation. This is a possibility if you otherwise have a good working relationship with them or if the situation is based on a misunderstanding. However, in the majority of cases it makes sense to contact a third party such as a Gender Equality Officer, go through the incident with them, and get their advice on how to further proceed. If you want to be prepared for a future meeting or think you might want to submit a complaint, then it is a good idea to keep a written record and retain documents that reference instances of discrimination even if you decide against taking action later.

If you are touched inappropriately, someone makes obscene comments to you, or you are affected by another type of sexualized harassment, discrimination, or violence, then you should make it clear if possible that you do not consent to these actions, request help from bystanders, and exit the situation as quickly as possible.  Record the names and contact details of any witnesses and notify someone who can remove the offender from the area. Write down what you have experienced as a record and seek advice from a counseling service that can support you.

If you witness a person being discriminated against on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation, you should ask the person for their perspective on the situation and offer them support. Intervene and offer help to the person who is being harassed, attacked or discriminated against. Sometimes it’s enough for another person to arrive on the scene and indicate that they do not approve of what is happening. However, you should only get involved if this does not pose a risk to your safety. If this is the case, you should merely observe the situation and call for help from other people who are in the vicinity or notify the police. Then offer to contact friends of the victim or the police and to wait with them. Recommend that they get the contact details of bystanders and keep a written record. Encourage them to get in touch with the Office of the Standing Working Group on Sexualized Harassment, Discrimination, and ViolenceLocal Gender Equality Officer, or a support service and offer to accompany them. Do not take any action without the express consent of the person concerned. It is totally understandable if they (initially) do not want to proceed any further.

Processing Sexualized Harassment, Discrimination, and Violence

If you have experienced sexualized harassment, discrimination, or violence, you should keep a written record of what you have gone through and get in touch with the right support service for you. Together you can determine the best way to process what you have gone through and prevent further incidents.

If someone tells you that they have suffered sexualized harassment, discrimination, or violence, then you should take what they are telling you very seriously and find a way to help them. If the incident has just happened, then you should offer to call the police or a friend for them and wait in a safe place until they arrive. Tell the person that they should write down what happened in a written record and note the contact details of observers if possible. Recommend that they get in touch with a support service and point them to the list on this website.