How To Deal With Sexual Harassment During Your Internship

Has your boss ever grabbed your thigh? Have you ever felt that someone expected sex from you? It can be hard to know how to deal with inappropriate comments and unprofessional behavior towards women at work. Here’s my story, how I dealt with it, and what I wish I had done differently!

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Professionalism and respect – two terms that not everyone understands.        

A while ago I was doing my thesis internship for a very cool company and felt freaking awesome about it. Do you know the feeling you get when your job interview goes really well, you get along with your boss, you have great colleagues, and the whole environment seems chill and relaxed? Yep! That is the feeling I had when I walked out of the door after the interview.

Not too long after I started working there, I noticed that there was tension between me and my boss. I wasn’t sure where this came from; in the beginning I thought it was just me being weird and overreacting. The tension started to get more noticeable and I started receiving inappropriate comments from him. It started with him saying how nice and beautiful I looked, how well my clothes suit me, and how feminine my body was! HELLO, AWKWARD!

Is he just trying to be REALLY WEIRDLY nice to me or what? Something felt really wrong and things quickly escalated. Soon he started touching and grabbing my hands with every opportunity he got. He once stood right behind me, and when I say this I mean RIGHT behind me in the kitchen when I was making my sandwich because he had to ‘grab a mug’ from the kitchen cupboard. The moment I got really freaked out was when he ‘spanked’ me in the hallway when I walked passed him. This was it, I was done with it. I couldn’t help but think, “Where is your respect and professionalism towards me? Is this normal and okay?”

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Girl, don’t doubt yourself! It’s not your fault.

At this point I was really stressed out. My internship deadline was approaching and I wasn’t feeling comfortable at work. I started doubting myself and my behavior. Was I being provocative or was I dressed inappropriately for the office? Did I say something that could have made him act like that? These were questions that were running through my head every day. Even though I know I did nothing wrong, I couldn’t help but wondering.

The only thing I regret is that I did not say or show that his behavior bothered me from the beginning. I was worried about speaking up, I even thought that by saying something I was risking to get fired.  I couldn’t find the right timing or words to stand up for myself. But really, how do you tell your co-worker or employer to stop harassing you without damaging your relationship with that person?

A professor once told me that even if a women took all her clothes off and ran around naked, no man has the right to touch her if that is not want she wants. She might get fired… but no one could touch her without her explicit consent. It might be an extreme example but I stand by it. It is never the victim’s fault.

Don’t hesitate and reach out to someone. It’s okay to panic!

I lived this and from my own experience I can give every woman this advice. If this or something similar has happened or is happening to you do not think that it is okay – it is definitely not and you should reach out for help. Even if you think it is not necessary.

First of all – stand up for yourself and be straight to this person. You are a strong and independent woman and you will not allow anyone to mistreat you like that. Letting someone know that you are not okay with this kind of harassment can prevent a lot! You set your own boundaries and others should simply respect them. If this is not the case, and you feel that you cannot handle the situation anymore, reach out to someone you trust.

If you are doing an internship like I did, your university is a great place to start. Colleges and universities are responsible for their students and most of the times they will do everything they can to help. Practical stuff such as leaving the firm or getting placed somewhere else are issues your school can easily resolve. It is up to you to ask for help and support.

If you think this situation has damaged you a lot more and you would like get professional support there are plenty of institutions you can approach. In the Netherlands you just visit your family doctor and there they will provide you all the support and information you need.

If you are an American studying or interning abroad you can check the website, they can help with whatever it is that you need. They have crisis centers all over the world and are specialized in guiding, supporting and educating students on how such circumstances could possibly be prevented.

You ROCK and everyone should appreciate you!             

The moral of my story, and what I would like other women to know, is that it is NOT your fault. There are a lot of crazy and sick people in this world that want to hurt and damage you, but don’t ever let that happen. If you were or are in an unfortunate situation and you had to go through something awful like this, get the help that you need.

Young and independent woman tent to underestimate the effect that sexual assaults and harassment can have on our lives. By admitting and confronting the situation as it is you will become a lot stronger and trust me, you will set your boundaries and fight for your rights from now on!

Girl, you ROCK and everyone should appreciate you. If they don’t, move on with your head up and never look back. They don’t deserve your beauty, your brains or your talents! Just be done with it!!

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Nadia Karathanasis

Nadia Karathanasis, 25 year old, Dutch/Greek living in Holland trying to find a balance between travelling and studying

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