Sexual harassment is a well-known phenomenon that workplaces have been dealing with for a very long time. With that said, many employees have become more adept at spotting it, less tolerant of its presence and more likely to report it to employers who are themselves more likely to take action. In no small part, this is due to more widespread modern sexual harassment training.
However, there’s a digital side to sexual harassment too, and dealing with it can be more difficult, and even require cybersecurity awareness training.
What online sexual harassment includes?
Whereas in-person sexual harassment is often fairly easy to spot or perceive as a threat, its online variant gets a lot less appreciation than it deserves. Despite this, it is at least as much of a potential problem for employees and employers and might in some contexts even become a threat in the physical world.
Why online sexual harassment can be a serious problem for everyone
Not only can online harassment be legally defined as one of several possible criminal offenses in the United States, it’s also a serious problem for both employers and employees for powerful personal threat reasons.
Particularly, online harassment among coworkers and other people who know each other personally can be especially dangerous. There are multiple reasons for this:
On the one hand, these people can often leverage their personal familiarity with a victim to stalk them online or vice versa more viciously and effectively. Secondly, those who do harass an employee or coworker online can possibly ruin their reputation with help from digital platforms.
The real-world effects of both can take a while to appear but be just as dangerous: an employee who’s being stalked online by a coworker, or possibly even a boss in the workplace can end up being stalked in person by that same victimizer with help from information gleaned digitally. This use of online stalking tools can possibly lead to physical violence and intimidation that go completely beyond just the online world.
And on the other hand, victimizers can use an assortment of social media platforms and other digital mediums to completely ruin a coworker’s reputation for any reason they like. These attackers often use the internet’s capacity for being a semi-anonymous place to launch their own attacks against someone they would never be aggressive to in person.
Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace often experience depression at work too which leads to low productivity and lack of initiative.
Even if the victim of such a reputation attack legally fights to have compromising personal materials removed, they can linger on the internet indefinitely despite anyone’s best efforts against the reputation attack or invasion of privacy.
These attacks and threats can have an especially disproportionate on employees who belong to a vulnerable minority, sexual preference, socio-economic group or personal belief system. Their more-precarious-than-average personal lives can make the impact of further victimization or threats much more personally harmful.
How Employers can suffer too
All of the above threats are directly capable of making sexual harassment online a serious, dangerous real-life problem not just for employees but also for employers. For one thing, employers themselves may also become the victims of any type of harassment that their employees suffer.
Furthermore, if you’re an employer, you might be exposing yourself to serious legal liability if those you supervise are discovered to be using company resources or time to harass or stalk others digitally.
This might not just apply to your employees and their coworkers. Depending on your work environment, it’s possible to have your employees using company technology or resources to cover their tracks while stocking members of the outside public, or people in their own personal lives, such as ex-partners or husbands and wives. All of these are potentially explosive points of liability for many employers.
How Workplaces can Be Safer
Any company that promotes a safe and inclusive workplace should also maintain a strong and well-established anti-harassment policy. This policy should clearly lay out how different forms of online harassment work, why they’re so harmful and how they can be punished both internally and legally if discovered.
More fundamentally still, employees and employers should both be guided towards the kind of mutually respectful workplace that stigmatizes harassment right at its root as an idea that’s not worth trying. Courses in sexual harassment training that cover the moral, ethical and legal repercussions of these behaviors are one powerful tool for fighting both online and in-person aggression against coworkers. In some kinds of workplace, these measures might even be legally mandatory.
All of the staff in any organization should also be taught about the importance of not making themselves more vulnerable than necessary to online stalking. This could mean teaching them about the dangers of sharing their social and personal lives too openly in the digital world and teaching them about the numerous methods by which it’s so easy for a stalker to track someone online and harm them in the real world based on what they find.