Every organisation has their sexual harassers, and their identities rarely stay truly secret. Somebody knows, somebody talks, but the people in a position to do something about it — bystanders, higher-ups — often figure it isn't their problem. This has to stop.
Organisational psychologist Liane Davey writes at Quartz that "it's become increasingly clear that staying passive only perpetuates the cycle of abuse". If you're hearing rumours, but aren't sure if there's anything to them, guess what — you are in a position to do something.
Here are some of her action items:
- Take rumours seriously. Practise this line: "That's a serious allegation. I can't ignore that comment." If the person heard it second-hand, ask if they will connect you with the victim. And if they are the person who experienced the behaviour themselves, be clear about whether or not you can keep their story confidential.
- Support the person in whatever way you can. Maybe you can help them take the issue to HR or even the police, or maybe you can connect them with other people at your organisation that have experienced the same thing. Sometimes all you can do is be a supportive sounding board, but that's important: They know somebody is listening and believes them.
- Report it. If the victim can't or won't report it themselves, you can tell HR yourself, anonymously if necessary. And if HR doesn't take action, Davey recommends telling someone in a position of power at your organisation that there's a serious issue that HR isn't following up on. Ask, "What would you advise me to do?"
Imagine a workplace where everybody reacts this way when they hear rumours, instead of shrugging them off. If an organisation is full of people who go "wait, that's messed up, tell me more" when they hear their colleague is being creepy or worse, those creepy dudes (who are everywhere) wouldn't stay undercover for very long.