Seven Channels for Reporting Sexual Misconduct

(Trigger Warning)

You’re considering reporting sexual misconduct, but are you aware of the different entities that may be interested in your report?

Because the definition of sexual misconduct includes both assault and harassment, you’ll want to know whether the misconduct you encountered represents criminal activity or, at the other end of the spectrum, is more a violation of a standard of professional or social conduct. A number of different organizations provide a person with whom you can speak who may direct you toward the best reporting avenue for your situation, including RAINN (assault) which runs the national rape crisis hotline and Workplace Fairness (harassment). Larger organizations may also have an ombuds(man), a fancy term for a person who will advise you. If, after speaking with the above and doing online research, you’re still unclear where it would be best to report, seek the advice of an employment law attorney.

In general, your report is better served if others can corroborate aspects of it. Perhaps, someone observed your experience, heard or knows about it through other means or is aware that the perpetrator has engaged in such behavior previously. Seeking allies is always a good idea, whether before you report or after.

1) Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is more concerned with prosecutable crimes such as physical assault or severe emotional distress. If you are a survivor of sexual assault or unsure whether you are, please seek medical attention first. Contact RAINN’s hotline, 1-800-656-4673, to understand your next steps, and depending on their advice, subsequently reach out to Law Enforcement. Other options to consider are Project Callisto and JDoe, which allow you to build a legal complaint before you are sure whether you want to submit it.

2) The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The EEOC is more interested in sexual misconduct that includes quid-pro-quo (“this in exchange for that”) or has become pervasive enough to demonstrate a hostile work environment. Filing a complaint with the EEOC should be considered after reporting to Law Enforcement because it has a 180 day filing deadline for reporting, though this deadline varies by state. Federal employees have an even shorter deadline of 45 days. Engaging with the EEOC doesn’t mean you have to pursue a case with them, and you can still report through other channels.

3) Human Resources

HR is the most obvious place to which to report when the offense is a violation of the organization’s Code of Conduct or Discrimination and Harassment Policy, except when:

- the perpetrator is also in HR or

- you believe HR will cover for the perpetrator.

You may be able to get a sense of whether HR will be responsive by asking colleagues how HR has responded in similar situations. Be sure to review the organization's Code of Conduct to understand how your experience fits into its standards of behavior. A bad sign would be that the organization does not have a Code of Conduct.

4) Anonymous Reporting

Anonymous reporting may feel more comfortable for individuals concerned about the potential for retaliation, for bystanders, and for those who feel indirect evidence is available. Publicly held companies whose stock is traded on an exchange are required to have an anonymous reporting mechanism that will send complaints of ethics violations to the company’s Audit Committee. Sometimes, this is designed as a 1-800 hotline, often marketed as a “helpline” or “ethicsline.” Occasionally, the company will have also a reporting website, which can be an easier way to report if you have substantiation. I’m With Them provides a directory of reporting for top US employers. The upside: a well-run anonymous line may get your experience the attention it deserves without your being as deeply involved. The downside: reports through the 1-800 number may come back into the company through HR or legal, and a more ambiguous situation will be harder for the company to investigate. For organizations that do not have such a reporting system, AllVoices.co, offers a similar method of getting anonymous reports to company management.

5) The Company’s Audit Committee

Again, this committee is the highest authority charged with ensuring that ethical violations and misconduct are addressed. If you are uncomfortable with HR or the anonymous reporting systems. It may be possible to directly and privately (and even anonymously, if you so choose) address a member of the Audit Committee by identifying the contact information for the Audit Committee online.

6) Employment Attorney

An employment attorney can help you by writing a letter to anyone to whom you wish to report. They will also be able to help you build a case for achieving justice. A scrupulous attorney will only be interested in your case to the extent that they believe you can be successful, whether that is in the court system or within your organization. They should primarily be interested in what you want to achieve.

7) Professional Associations

The perpetrator’s employer may not be the only professional organization with which the perpetrator is involved. The behavior of many professionals is guided by associations that have responsibility for their members, including those of healthcare professionals, attorneys, religious institutions, some branches of academia, and unions. Some of these organizations have the ability to sanction members or remove credentials. Identify the perpetrator’s credentials and then search online for “file a complaint” and the credentialing organization.

Considering reporting sexual misconduct under any circumstance can feel lonely. Unfortunately, others may have been harmed by the same person; a percentage of harassment and assault are committed by serial perpetrators. Indeed, others may have already reported your perpetrator, and the organization may need the information your report provides in order to take action. One way you may be able to identify others affected by the same perpetrator is through a website like I’m With Them, which discreetly and privately connects those who share the same perpetrator without sharing any other information.

Reporting sexual misconduct can feel intimidating. Before #MeToo was a hashtag, journalists focused primarily on potential negative consequences of reporting. For more information about the benefits of reporting, see: Five Important Reasons to Report Sexual Misconduct.