We know sexual harassment is not always heterosexual or men harassing women, but since what we hear about most is heterosexual and men harassing women in shelters and on the street, we'll speak to the women and the rest of you can follow!
Women, you may be surrounded by men who don't know better or who do but figure they can get away with it.
Most Important! NO CASE MANAGER or PERSON WHO WORKS AT A SHELTER or other SOCIAL SERVICE AGENCY YOU RECIEVE HELP FROM, and that means security guards, upper management, volunteers who come in from somewhere else to help the homeless, may sexually harass you.
It's not professional behavior. It is also against the law.
That's because these people have some power or authority over you, as decision makers and as people who are supposed to be helping you out of the poverty and homelessness loop, and the least they can do is respect you by respecting boundaries and not expecting any "favors" or offering you special treatment in exchange for sex.
They may not touch you, hug you, come up behind you and kiss you, make remarks about your body or body parts, tell rude sex jokes in your presence that demean all women, call you a bitch or slut or ho, ask you for a date, expect you to meet them at a motel, take you home with them, and when it comes to riding somewhere in a car or vehicle there, some shelters have a policy of being sure that no client or resident is alone in a vehicle with a case manager. It's a smart policy and don't be offended by it.
It is not OK to be in a relationship with someone in power or authority over you in a professional position, even when you're both off the campus. DO NOT MEET ANY PERSON WHO IS INVOLVED IN YOUR CASE off the campus to talk or to socialize unless this is a preplanned group meeting or party, say at a restaurant. That's why there are offices.
Speaking of offices, we know that when you want to have a more private conversation that other residents can't hear, like that line outside the door, you probably want to close the door. We understand that, but if the door closes, be sure that you are seated across the way from the case manager with a desk or table or a few feet between you. That's why there's office furniture. There should be no porn or erotica in the office, not on the walls, on the coffee table, or on the computer.
Also, women and men should arrive for meetings modestly dressed. That means you don't dress like you would for the beach or a date for a meeting about your future at the shelter and beyond. We know it's hot out and you don't have a lot of clothing, but we suggest you at least appear modest, if not ready for an important interview. You can be your sexy self some other time with someone else. So jeans are better than shorts and cover up that cleavage with a sweater or jacket. The last thing you need is to hear that you asked for it or were coming on to your case manager because you wore a short skirt and no underwear or your swim trunks.
We think you should be dressed modestly at the shelter all the time, with no short shorts going up your crack or braless, and we know maybe you're young and you don't want to look like your grandmother, but sadly WE HEAR ABOUT MEN TAKING PICTURES OF WOMEN'S BODY PARTS AND POSTING THEM ON THE NET. We hear about MEN TAKING NAKED PICTURES OF WOMEN THEY HAD SEX WITH AND SHOWING THEM AROUND DORMS. We hear of men leaning down to stare at women's rear ends at close range. We hear about met battering women by punching them, coming up behind them and kissing their necks in cafeterias, of threating to throw them off balconies, AND WE HEAR THAT WHEN WOMEN COMPLAIN TO CASE MANAGEMENT they get no support; the men get to stay, and sometimes the women are thrown out like all women are whores. We even heard of a case where a man would get up and invite a woman to take his seat and then put his hands on the seat for her to sit on his hands.
MAKES US SICK!
One of the problems we hear about, from young pretty women especially, is that men at the shelter are trying to solicit them to be prostitutes, to pimp them out. We suggest to you, even if you have been prostituting, not to do this out of the shelter or let someone you meet at the shelter pimp you out. We understand hunger and poverty and we know you may've done things on the street to survive, but we still think the shelter is best a place to move forward and out of that life. A good case manager should be able to refer you to other opportunities. You're young and healthy? You have a lot of life ahead of you!
Another form of sexual harassment is being stalked. This is the person who may or may not tell you he is interested in you as a romance or hook up but who is watching your every move, asking your room mates or friends to report into him about where you're going and who with. (You sure as hell wouldn't tell him! Be sure your room mates know not to discuss your personal business or conspire with a stalker!) He may be showing up at places you go off the campus and sometimes it's hard to tell what his intentions are. If unsigned love letters or bouquets of flowers are mysteriously showing up at the mail drop or on your bed that's a problem. Stalkers have fantasy lives with you, even when you tell them you already have a boyfriend, have never dated the person or slept with them.
If you have dated them, slept with them, or actually been in a relationship with the person and no longer want them to call you or go out with them you have to be firm and not get into an on and off again relationship which only makes them more addicted to you.
NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR VICTIM ASSISTANCE on stalking and other crimes.
Another form of sexual harassment is when someone who you were friendly with or just friends with or who dated or were involved with is angry because you don't want to be more to them or continue a relationship and he or she revenges you for this. This can be really scary because a person who persists in revengeful behavior over "rejection" is usually mentally ill and can become violent or dangerous. A man who tells other men lies about you so that they will come on to you, treating you as a hooker or easy, is dangerous. Anyone who tells other men he had sex with you, true or not, is bad news. (Isn't sex a private matter?)
We think you should be able to go to your case manager with these issues and be supported. We think there should be a process for protecting yourself so that you can live at the shelter focused on your goals and not always watching your back. OTHERWISE THE SHELTER IS A HOSTILE LIVING ENVIRONMENT.
But that is not what we hear is happening.
WHEN CASE MANAGERS ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT DEAL WITH THE HARASSER OR ARE HARASSERS THEMSELVES, what can you do?
We know. If you file a restraining order one or both of you may get kicked out of the shelter. We've heard of women getting kicked before men are, even when men are verbally threatening to kill them, and we think it's because shelters get more money from Veterans or Parole programs. Women are told they should "understand" that the shelter is actually a mental hospital and that some other residents are crazy when they are threatened. We think "there must be a woman case manager somewhere who is strong and will help" but then we hear about upper management women who are the first to tell a resident "You have no rights!" We think filing a police report(s) may be the way to go. Sadly, we know that sometimes the police are also ignorant and will only be interested if it gets physical. (But check out the link above and the other links under LEGAL on our sidebar!)
One person asked us what to do because her case manager told her that if she would do certain things then she would be prioritized for housing. Shit! We know women are sometimes put in this position of choosing not only at shelters but at jobs. Some women who said no on the job lost their jobs and their apartments and their children and are homeless right now.
We want you to be at least informed and NOT COMPLIANT when it comes to being sexually harassed or abused.
We also want to caution you that it is inappropriate for a case manager or other shelter/non profit employee or volunteer to (unless this is an emergency situation) call you from their home, text message you after working hours or late at night, to come into the room where you are laying or sitting in bed and get physically onto the bed with you even if it's just to talk. We think that using e-mail and texting is OK to keep in touch with a case manager, especially if you're working and not there most days, but keep it professional and brief (no selfies, no porn, no suggestive jokes) and do so on your break, not during after their office hours at night.
Another issue is if you should talk about your very personal life with a case manager. It's important if you're homeless with children to substantiate that you're on your own. If you hope to live with a partner in a Section 8 apartment you should tell them. It's important if you're running from domestic violence to say that. But you should not be talking details about your sex life. Case management is NOT THERAPY and is not the DOCTORS OFFICE even if the case manager has a license to practice therapy! If you start talking about personal details that are none of his or her business the case manager should shut you down and move the conversation back to what's important.
KEEP YOUR SELF RESPECT!
KEEP YOUR SELF ESTEEM!