I grew up in downtown Lewiston. My first job was at the public library. Men regularly whispered to me through the stacks to tell me that they were watching me bend over to put away books. One day, one of the dads in the children’s room asked me if he could bring me back home with him and provided some details of what would happen there — in front of his four-year-old.
I was 14.
I was a temporary receptionist at a company in the outskirts of Auburn. My boss’s boss asked me if the company could pay me to go with the new accountant — recently arrived from Canada — back to Montreal to finish packing his belongings. I was confused until he explained to me that the new accountant, “needed … female company.”
I was 19.
When I came back to Maine from college, I landed my first nonprofit job. A man who I met through the organization was prominent in Maine nonprofits began texting me at 2 a.m. and told me — among other things — that his wife was away.
I was 22.
Across sectors, throughout the state of Maine, people experience workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment reports to the Maine Human Rights Commission have more than doubled in recent years. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that 75 percent of sexual harassment incidents go unreported.
Every sexual harassment incident I’ve experienced had something in common: I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to Google (once Google became a thing, that is). I occasionally told a boss here and there, but usually I ignored it or laughed it off.
Many victims of sexual harassment may think their only option is to ignore it and laugh it off. Like I did, they silently worry about when it will happen next, if it will escalate, or they will somehow lose their job. And — even if they are somewhat aware that there are more options — they may be unsure of where to find more information.
For the first time, information about what to do — what we can all do — is all in one place. MaineCanDo.org provides information for people who have been harassed, for people who want to help, and for small businesses and nonprofits about what they can do to meet legal requirements and follow best practices to be a healthy and safe workplace.
MaineCanDo.org is the first resource of its kind. Among information included within this new resource are three important things anyone who is being sexually harassed should know.
Know your rights. As an employee, you have certain rights under both Maine and federal law. No matter what your legal or citizenship status, you have the right to feel and be safe at work.
You do not need to tell the person harassing you to stop before you report to someone at work. You have the right to at least two reporting options, which your employer must make known to you.
Retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal. This includes firing, change in work responsibilities, transfers, ignoring or excluding, unwarranted punishment for something else, or making you feel uncomfortable or unwanted at work. It is illegal for anyone to retaliate against you for reporting — or for being part of an investigation about harassment you’ve witnessed.
Know your reporting options. You can report at work, with the Maine Human Rights Commission, or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you are reporting to the MHRC or the EEOC, you must do so within 300 days of the harassment. Some kinds of sexual harassment may also be against criminal law as well (for instance, sexual harassment that includes assault) and can be reported to the police.
Know where to get help. You can find more information about your rights and options at MaineCanDo.org. You can also text, chat, or call an advocate who is trained to help. Advocates work at Maine’s sexual assault support centers and can help you talk through what you’re feeling and figure out what – if anything – you want to do next.
I didn’t know any of this when I was 14, 19, or 22. But I do know it at 33 and I am working to give victims the information they need — and to change the culture in Maine’s workplaces. Will you?
Cara Courchesne is the communications director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.