How to report sexual harassment

February 13, 2018
Portia Stewart, Editor, Team Channel Director
Portia Stewart, Editor, Team Channel Director

Portia Stewart is a pun-loving editor who spends her days arguing the differences between cats and commas (commas are a pause at the end of a clause, while cats have the claws at the end of the paws). She is a minion to two cats and a dog.

Here's guidance on how to speak up if you experience sexual harassment, ickiness, creepiness or anything else that makes you uncomfortable in your veterinary workplace."If it happens to you, go tell a trusted person," says Elizabeth Strand, PhD, LCSW, the director of veterinary social work at the University of Tennessee. "Write down what happened to you. Then as quickly as possible have a nonaggressive, direct conversation with the person who behaved in a way you found to be out of line."

What do you say? Dr. Strand suggests something like this: "I really value you, and I value this working relationship. But what just happened is not OK in our relationship. I want you to know that it's out of line from my perspective."

The goal, she says, is to make a nonaggressive, nonblaming, clear statement that you care about the person, you like the working relationship and the job is important to you. But the behavior the other person is exhibiting is not acceptable. Dr. Strand admits it's a scary thing to do.

And it can feel even harder to confront someone if the uncomfortable behavior has happened on other occasions and you've never spoken up. But it's still vitally important to do. Dr. Strand suggests an opening like this: "This happened a week ago, and I was so shocked I didn't know what to say. I need you to know I value this relationship and I value this work, but this is out of line. I don't accept this, and I look forward to our continued appropriate relationship."

From a legal standpoint, Keith Gutstein, JD, a partner at the law firm Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, agrees that the best approach is to speak up immediately.

"Make it very clear to the harasser that this is unwelcome, because this could end up resolving the issue quickly," he says. "If it was a misunderstanding and the person thought you were agreeable to the conduct, you can clear up the matter quickly by speaking unequivocally." 

If the harasser continues the behavior, follow the sexual harassment policy at your practice, which should specify how to complain and who you should talk to, Gutstein says. 

Remember, the longer you stay silent, the more likely the harasser will assume you're OK with the behavior. And if it comes to legal action, the harasser may try to point to your silence as a form of tacit consent. 

Portia Stewart is team channel director for and the editor of FirstlineRead her #MeToo moment here. Do you have a #MeToo moment to share? Email