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Don’t underestimate the number of men who are sexually harassed

The #MeToo movement has reinvigorated the discussion about sexual harassment. It’s in the forefront of the American consciousness perhaps like never before.

But there are still a significant number of largely invisible victims out there: men.

While men have been portrayed largely as villains in the national mindset when it comes to sexual harassment, men may often be hidden victims. That’s unfortunate, because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that 1 out of every 5 complaints of workplace harassment comes from a male. Nor is that news to the EEOC. That’s been the rate for about a decade now.

Nationally, men admit to being sexually harassed at work only about 10 percent of the time, which would be a much lower figure than the EEOC provides. However, men may be reluctant to admit to harassment because the social stigma of being the male victim of unwanted sexual attention can be harsh. Socially, men are expected to protect themselves — not seek help from their employers to handle an issue. Often, they’re expected to laugh off sexual incidents and jokes.

It’s important for men to recognize that they, too, can be victims of sexual harassment. Employers need to encourage reporting by their male employees by providing training and education to all members of their workforce in a gender neutral fashion. It’s important to stress things like:

  • Victims can be both male and female
  • Harassers can be both male and female
  • Sexual harassment can come from a supervisor or co-worker who is of the same gender as the victim
  • Sexual harassment can be motivated by desire, but it is more often about power, domination or humiliation
  • Sexual harassment can include being targeted for not conforming to gender stereotypes, like a “manly man” or a “feminine woman”

In addition, employers need to let their male employees know that the sexual harassment of men is real — and that reports from men will be accorded the same respect that those from their female co-workers will be accorded.