Internet Safety Guide for Women: IRL

Sexual Harrasment Safety Guide IRLyoung attractive businesswoman suffering sexual harassment and abuse of colleague or office boss touching her at work with excessive familiarity in work relationship context. Photo: Depositphoto.

Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women: In Real Life

VPN mentor has written an excellent Internet Safety guide for women. Not to say for all humans, young and old. It is, however, not restricted to the internet, but contains useful information on In Real Life (IRL) Attacks as well. This is the last instalment in the series, named “Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women”. This time we focus on Real Life and also cover LinkedIn and online dating.

Harassment at Work 

Unfortunately, abuse is also prevalent in work environments. According to one studyone in three women ages 18-34 has been sexually harassed at work. 25% of those women were harassed online via texts or emails, yet 71% of these women did not report it.

We can only speculate the reasons for this, but one could be because sexual harassment is not clearly defined.

However, some examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos.
  • Sending letters, texts, or emails with suggestive content.
  • Telling lewd jokes or sexual anecdotes.

But even these are ambiguous! If someone sends a dick pick, that is clearly sexual harassment, but an off-hand comment could be misconstrued.

So, how do you know it’s sexual harassment?

For those moments where you’re not sure, think about how you feel. Did that comment make you uncomfortable? Is there something off-putting about it? If yes, chances are there’s an underlying tone that should be considered sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment comes in different forms, and when it’s online it’s often even less obvious. Yet, it still happens. If you’re in a professional situation where you feel uncomfortable, you should immediately start recording it. Often larger cases are built on a pattern of small incidents, which, if not documented properly, won’t be useful as evidence.

Even if you’re not sure if an encounter counts as harassment, it’s better to treat it as such just in case the situation gets worse and you decide to eventually take action.

How to Report Harassment at Work

  1. Document Every Encounter
    Any comment, inappropriate email, or other correspondence that can possibly qualify as harassment should be recorded and stored somewhere where only you have access to it (not on the company’s Google Drive, for instance). It could be that one comment was unintentional, but if it happens again, you’ll be able to build a case.
    If an encounter involves something said verbally or inappropriate touching, as soon as possible, write yourself an email (from your personal account) describing the incident in as much detail as you can. Include the time, date, and location of the incident.
  2. Monitor the Situation
    Take screenshots, record times and dates, save emails, and keep a file of everything that makes you uncomfortable.
  3. Report It
    Once you have evidence, it’s time to file a report. While it is sometimes uncomfortable, reporting harassment in the office is one of the most productive ways you can stop it.
    Send your evidence to the HR department, which hopefully already has a policy in place as to how to proceed. If there is no HR at your company, then you should construct a well-informed email and send it to office management or to your manager (as long as they are not the one harassing you).
    How to Write an Email to Report Sexual Harassment:
    It can seem daunting to construct that first email. For this reason, we included a template for you to use.
    Subject line: Official complaint of sexual harassment
    Dear [HR] and [boss],
    I am writing this email to notify you that [name of harasser] has been sexually harassing me for the past [x amount of time].
    The following incidents have occurred during that time:
    Example 1: Describe what happened and when. Try to include as many facts as possible.
    Example 2: Describe the second incident that made you feel uncomfortable. Remember to include if you told anyone else at work about it.
    Example 3: Attach any documents or evidence that will support your case.
    If applicable, include what actions you believe the company should take. For instance, you can write, “I would like to be transferred to a different department” or “I would like this matter to be looked into, and I would like a formal apology from {name of harasser}.”
    Thank you for looking into this matter. Should you need any more information, I am happy to provide it.
    {Your name}

    Your office should have a policy on how to assess the situation and take action.

    If you don’t feel as though your complaint was adequately addressed, remember that you can always seek outside legal counsel. A professional well-versed in the laws in your area should be able to guide you in your next steps.

    We should also note that for many, reporting the incident internally is not an option, as many women freelance or are self-employed. In this scenario, you need to take the situation into your own hands.

Read also: Tips for Women: How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Sexual Harassment For Self-Employed

If you’re self-employed and experience an inappropriate encounter, since there’s no one to report to, you need to take care of the situation yourself.

This is exactly what happened to «Ariel», a musician who received sexually charged messages from another professional in her industry. After commenting on the way she shakes while playing music, Ariel responded “don’t be an ass” to which the harasser responded, “Oh, I love the way you talk.”

While Ariel decided not to publicly shame him, she did respond that his comments were suggestive and aggressive. The harasser disagreed and left it at that.

Ariel found it empowering to confront the harasser head on. Others may find that the best method of self-preservation is to ignore the harassers. There’s no right or wrong way to address harassment in this scenario. It is your decision.

Sexual Harassment on LinkedIn

LinkedIn, an online platform for career-networking and business has unfortunately also become an outlet for sexual harassment. While LinkedIn’s policy prohibits any form of harassment, there’s no way for LinkedIn to totally prevent it, and – unfortunately – sexual harassment still happens there every day.

Because it’s a networking site, some treat it like a dating site. Among other complaints, women have reported men sending them inappropriate messages, and making lewd comments on their appearance based on their profile pictures.

Another potential pitfall: your resume.

Many people upload their resumes without considering that their email address and phone number appear in the header. Unless you want the entire internet to have access to that information, delete it from the version you post.

Unwanted phone calls asking to go out may not seem like sexual harassment to some men, but for women receiving phone calls from strangers, it could definitely feel like it.

But, that’s the problem. Because most harassment is not so blatant, it’s harder for women to validate and report it. While you can’t prevent creepy guys from messaging you on LinkedIn, there are ways you can protect yourself.

4 Ways to Protect Yourself on LinkedIn 

  1. Before accepting a LinkedIn connection, check the degrees of separation. Do you have connections in common? Do they work in your industry? If not, don’t accept.
  2. If you receive an unsolicited message, you can decide to block them. Just click on the three dots at the top right and then click Report this conversation.
  3. You can also block that person from viewing your profile or contacting you. Go to the person’s profile, click More>Report/Block and follow the instructions.
  4. If you upload your resume, check to make sure your phone number, home address, and other contact information are not listed. If someone wants to contact you for your work, they can do it through LinkedIn.  

There is no guarantee that these suggestions will protect you 100%. However, they do provide you with more control regarding who can contact you.



Online Dating and Sexual Harassment

«Kylie» had been chatting with «Marco» for about a month after having connected on OkCupid, but they hadn’t yet met in person. One night, after over an hour of increasingly flirty texts, Marco suggested that they switch to a more visual forum – he wanted to Skype sex.

The next day, Kylie was horrified when one of her friends called to tell her that she received a recording of the encounter. An hour later, Kylie got a message from Marco: pay up, or the recording would be sent to even more people in her social network.

Online dating is where women are most vulnerable to cyber-sexual harassment.

That’s because unlike most social networks, dating sites are where you go with the express purpose of the meeting, and potentially getting intimate with strangers. Whereas on other sites strict privacy settings could serve as a shield, on dating sites those tactics for staying safe would just result in another solitary Saturday night.

While dating apps are supposed to be fun, they’ve also been known to lead to some pretty unpleasant encounters.

For instance, «Esme» met «Raphael» on the app Happn. After chatting on the app, the conversation moved to WhatsApp, but when Esme checked his profile picture, she noticed Raphael looked different and his profile did not match the one on the dating app. Not wanting a confrontation, she told Raphael that she had some personal issues to work out before she was ready to date. Instead of accepting her explanation, he started bombarding her with aggressive questions about where she was and who she was with.

Finally, Esme blocked him and reported him to Happn. Knowing he would seek her out on social media she also blocked him on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. And when he tried to call her, she blocked his number too. Whether Raphael finally got the hint (unlikely) or simply found it too hard to maintain contact, Esme was able to stop the abuse – but not all women are this lucky.

What happened to Esme is known as catfishing – or when someone misrepresents themselves online, often using fake photos and profiles. While Esme was able to clearly see that the person on the Happn profile was different from the person in the WhatsApp profile, most catfishers are smart enough to better hide their tracks.

Similarly, it’s pretty easy to unknowingly become the accomplice of a catfisher. Take «Cori», for instance. One day she got a call from a friend that her Facebook profile picture was being used on someone else’s dating profile. Cori reported the fake profile and it was deleted, but who knows how many people saw her face and information before then?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to both meet people online and ensure you’ll never be a victim. However, there are ways to protect yourself.

3 Ways to Protect Yourself on Dating Sites

  1. Do a Background Check
    When you first connect with someone online, search them on Google, Facebook, and other dating apps if you’re on them. Look for inconsistencies in their pictures and profile descriptions. If you find any, report the profile to your app.
  2. Get to Know Them on the App
    Chat on the app before moving the conversation to a different platform. This gives you a sense of who they are before exposing further details about your personal life. Once you do feel comfortable enough to move the conversation to another platform, be aware of what they can see there. For instance, both WhatsApp and Telegram allow profile photos, WhatsApp allows status updates, and Telegram lets you write a little biography about yourself. Both apps also have a “last seen” feature that shows your contacts when you were last on the app. If you don’t want someone to see any of this information, change your privacy settings. And if you do end up getting together in person, make sure to meet in a public place, and let a friend know where you’ll be.
  3. Keep Your Social Media Accounts and Pictures Private.
    This minimizes the chance of someone stealing your pictures and using them on dating sites.

What’s next?

This is the last article in the series. All that remains to be said is:

stay safe!

Other articles in the series:

The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women: Intro
The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women: Twitter
The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women: Facebook
The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women: Snapchat

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