Lisa Schafman wants to give employees at her small business the tools they need to avoid perpetrating sexual harassment, and to respond to incidents should they crop up at the workplace.
Without a dedicated human resources team enjoyed by larger companies, she decided to educate herself by attending a free public seminar on sexual harassment at the Bettendorf Public Library on Tuesday night.
"I have a couple of stores and a food truck, and we hire a lot of young people who are potentially in isolated situations," said Richlen, who owns Meatheads Meat Market with her husband, Bruce. "I want to make sure that we're training them correctly, so that they understand both ends of sexual harassment."
Facilitated by Kathleen Richlen, Human Resources Director for the City of Bettendorf, the seminar addressed both how to not become a perpetrator, and how best to respond as a victim.
Richlen began by defining sexual harassment as "unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive, and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment."
Unwelcome, Richlen said, is the key word.
"If somebody says, 'Would you like to go out on a date?' and you say, 'Yes,'—that's not sexual harassment," said Richlen.
On the other hand, Richlen said, if a coworker keeps asking the same person out on a date after they already declined, that would constitute harassment.
Harassment doesn't only occur between coworkers who are new to each other, Richlen said. It can also occur between people who have built up rapport and long-standing professional relationships with one another.
There can be a fine line between good-natured ribbing between friends and comments that cross the line, so Richlen said it is incumbent upon the one being offended to let their coworker know that they feel uncomfortable.
"If there is one thing that I can drive, it's communicating," said Richlen. "Keeping quiet doesn't tell the person that you're being bothered."
After one attendee remarked that not all victims would feel comfortable speaking up to their offender — especially if the offender is in a position of power over them — Richlen said that there is almost always someone in the organization who you can go to, even if they are not in your own department.
"If you don't feel comfortable with the person that's bothering you, tell a friend, tell a supervisor, tell your pastor at your church if you feel comfortable with that, tell your parents," said Richlen. "Tell somebody."
This was the first such seminar held at the library, according to Maria Levetzow, Assistant Director of the Bettendorf Public Library.
"Given the prevalence that the topic has in the news today, we thought it was a good opportunity to further the conversation in a productive manner," said Levetzow.
Sexual harassment and assault has taken on a national prominence in recent weeks, after substantial allegations of sexual misconduct carried out by the film executive Harvey Weinstein were reported by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October.
Since then, many more accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men have surfaced, including actor Kevin Spacey, former President George H.W. Bush, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, and television journalist Charlie Rose.
Although most of the high-profile allegations have involved men as the perpetrators and women as the victims, Richlen said that each gender can be found on either side.
"This is not man-to-woman only," said Richlen. "This is woman to a man, this is man to a man, this is woman to a woman. The days of [only] a man to a woman — it doesn't exist anymore."
Nor does sexual harassment always involve sexual conduct, Richlen explained. She gave the example of a woman working as a carpenter on an otherwise all-male construction crew, whose tools are frequently taken and hidden.
Richlen also dispelled common myths about sexual harassment, including the notions that some people are asking to be harassed, that ignoring the problem would eventually make it go away, and that harassment is inevitable in the workplace.
After a victim of sexual harassment notifies their abuser of their misconduct, the next thing they should do if it continues according to Richlen is to thoroughly document the behavior with dates and times to present to a supervisor or human resources, and, if possible, to gather witnesses who can corroborate claims.
"Education is key in the battle against sexual harassment," said Levetzow. "Education needs to start, if possible, even before our young people get their first jobs."