Power Trip

What to Do When You Witness Sexual Harassment at Work

Even if you’re not the target, seeing harassment happen can mean emotional and professional consequences

Rae Nudson
Published in
4 min readOct 9, 2018
Photo: Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

WWhen you see harassment happening in the workplace, the best thing to do is something. Intervene in the moment. Talk to the harasser. Talk to the victim. Talk to a supervisor. Document what happened.

But you should also take some time to gaze inward. It’s normal to not feel okay after witnessing sexual harassment, even if you weren’t the target. Sexual harassment is among the most psychologically harmful job stressors, says Kathleen Rosplenda, an associate psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies workplace harassment. And research has shown that bystanders, like victims, can suffer a host of professional and personal consequences — including disengagement from work, depression, stress, and the various health issues that come with it.

That’s especially true if you have your own history of trauma, in which case witnessing harassment can bring up feelings of powerlessness or memories of your own bad experiences, says Debra Borys, a clinical and forensic psychologist. “Even for someone who themselves has not been through any type of abuse, trauma, or assault,” she adds, “it can still be traumatizing.” If this applies to you, learn how to navigate your emotions and decide what to do next.

Find your support network in or out of the office.

Don’t wait to begin processing what you’ve seen. Trying to tamp down your emotions will only make them fester.

“Definitely tell somebody,” Rosplenda says. “Get support any way you can.”

Ideally, talk to someone who’s not connected to the situation, like a friend or a therapist. A level-headed listener removed from the workplace environment “can be comforting as well as clarifying,” Borys says, and hearing an outside perspective can help you work out what you’re feeling and figure out how to proceed.

In a situation where feelings of powerlessness are common, being there for others can help you…



Rae Nudson
Writer for

A freelance writer based in Chicago with bylines at the Cut, Hazlitt, Paste Magazine, and more. Working on a book for Beacon Press. rae.nudson@gmail.com