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‘Targets, not victims’: how to identify, address, prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

Ken Cooper (left) and Bing Dempewolf (right) talked about different ways to address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Ken Cooper (left) and Bing Dempewolf (right) talked about different ways to address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Even with more awareness and updated policies surrounding the issue of sexual harassment, offensive advances and interactions in the workplace have not gone away. But have employers overlooked other ways to deal with the matter?

Ken Cooper, corporate trainer and author of "Stop It Now: How Targets and Managers Can End Sexual Harassment," thinks so. He said workplaces need to address the matter beyond the legal ramifications and introduce behavioral trainings once.

Cooper joined host Don Marsh on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air alongside Bing Dempewolf, human resources consultant at Tai-Chi Consulting, to talk about identifying, addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Dempewolf said that many times, what is or isn’t considered harassment varies person to person, which makes the issue more complex.

“It’s not black and white; that’s the problem about sexual harassment,” Dempewolf said. “It actually depends on how that individual takes it.” She noted that a person’s reaction to unwelcomed advances can be seen in their body language and behavior.

She added that some people take responsibility for addressing the matter on their own, while others want human resources to intervene. Some don’t want to say anything due to fear of being targeted or losing their job, so it’s important for human resources to ask questions about how those who are targeted feel.

What makes someone an offender?

Cooper defined an offender as a person who keeps pushing limits and repeating the unwanted behavior. He outlined the six stages of harassment by an offender:

  • Aesthetic appreciation: comments on appearance that are unwelcome and have nothing to do with work.
  • Active mental groping: when someone stares at inappropriate places and times or engages in borderline behavior that is irritating and not work related.
  • Social touching: constant touching without consent on “acceptable areas” including arms, shoulders and neck.
  • Foreplay harassment: further touching including around the waist, around shoulders, etc.
  • Complete harassment: touching in private places.
  • Outright assault.

Targets, not victims

Cooper promotes usage of the word “target” (of sexual harassment) instead of “victim.”

“You can be targeted with harassment, but you don’t have to be victimized by it – there’s a lot of things you can do back,” he said.

Dempewolf said sexual harassment trainings are changing the workplace culture and behaviors of people in their organizations to some degree, but not enough.

She said that oftentimes workplaces show “boring videos” or online tests that are considered tedious and not as effective. Tai-Chi Consulting trains men and women with face-to-face lessons that show various examples of harassment, including body language and inappropriate faces, as well as how targets themselves can call out uncomfortable situations.

Cooper said “traditional” approaches of making employees sign off with regard to legal ramifications is also not working.

“What Bing and I do is focus on the behavioral side that’s been missing from most of the trainings,” Cooper said. He suggested several easy “tests” or questions a person can think about to help guide their actions: 1.) Would you like to see your potential action posted by a major news organization? 2.) Would you do it in front of your significant other? 3.) Would you do it in front of your boss or police officer? 4.) Can you answer in front of a lawyer why you did it?

“If you start asking yourself [about your potential actions] – don’t do it,” Cooper said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
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