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So I confided in my supervisor that a faculty member in our faculty (different department) asked me to sleep with him and that I was upset by the offer. My supervisor responded that I was over reacting and that he meant it as a compliment as he was attracted to me. She went on to say that if I want to progress in academia, I should learn that working below men was normal and that I should get used to being hit on and recognize a compliment when I was given one. She then reminded me he didn't actually attack me, so "get over it and stop being so sensitive."

I was so upset by her comment I had to go home, and then I just cried and cried. I couldn't come to work for a few days because I was just dejected.

Now I'm just confused. Am I over reacting? I thought it was sexual harassment before I spoke to her but now I'm just confused. I was thinking of talking to my graduate program head and that's why I approached my supervisor for advice. Now I'm scared of talking to the head as I'm worried he will just behave exactly the same way. If it matters, my program head is a man and while he is nice, I am uncomfortable and afraid to tell him. The deputy chair is also a man. Both don't know me well except that I am in their department. I was hoping my supervisor would go with me, but her response was so unexpected. My supervisor is also well liked and popular with the faculty and students, and I am worried this will make her response more accepted and credible by the faculty.

But I don't think I could take another faculty member tell me I'm just being emotional for no reason.

 

Edited by orange turtle
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Update for those following this: I went for my morning meeting, and sat somewhere else. I purposely placed myself near the female professors. Got a raised eyebrow from one but I just shrugged it

@rphilos put down the shovel. The first sentence is the OP is the one that mattered. No additional details were needed for anyone who has had any training in how sexual harassment is defined or

@serenade, @avflinsch, @NoirFemme, @Hope.for.the.best, @Pandas, @aberrant, @Comparativist, @TakeruK, @Concordia, @fuzzylogician, @telkanuru @cowgirlsdontcry @Sigaba, @EliaEmmers I have

That is definitely sexual harassment (http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/human-rights/human-rights-protection/sex-discrimination-harassment.pdf). I'm shocked by your supervisor's response. 

So sorry you're dealing with this :(. I don't think you're overreacting at all. You have every right to speak out about this!

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Oh no! That's definitely bad and unacceptable! I can't understand why your supervisor will ask you to accept that! I would definitely raise it to the program head, but I agree that you don't do this alone. Maybe go to your student support centre and explain the situation. Chances are they have dealt with things like these before and they can help you out with this. If the student support centre takes on to this, then your program head will likely take things seriously. 

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Oh my goodness, I am so sorry for you, OP. That is a horrible thing to experience. It's most certainly sexual harassment and you have every right to be upset and expect others to take the situation seriously. It's something no one should have to deal with, especially within academia. But sadly it is so common. 

Your advisor's reaction is absolutely terrible. I can hardly think of a worse way to respond. It sounds even worse coming from a fellow woman as one would expect a female supervisor of all people to understand. Not that this is in any way an excuse, but I do wonder how old she is and whether she comes from a generation where this type of behavior was so common among women in academia that it almost seems like a rite of passage to her, hence the "suck it up" comment. Even if so, this is a mindset that most definitely needs to change within academia. There is no excuse for anyone treating a victim of sexual harassment that way. 

As to talking to others at your university, I would recommend definitely doing so. Sexual harassment/assault is such an underreported crime for this very reason - victims who are afraid to speak up after one person tries to silence them/tell them they're overreacting. That's another thing that needs to change within academia (and society in general) and while the burden is on those who are in authority to change the way they respond to sexual harassment/assault, part of the change can come from victims who choose to report their experiences. Also I'd say that while your advisor's reaction was awful, don't assume that everyone else in authority will have the same reaction. At a lot (all?) of universities, there is a Title IX coordinator/campus police person to talk to about these issues specifically. So that's perhaps the first resource to consult. After that you may or may not need to talk to higher ups in your department. But if you do, it can be frightening, but also know that they might be completely sympathetic, and just because they're male doesn't necessarily mean that they won't respond more professionally than your advisor did. So I'd start with the people at your university specifically designated to handle these issues and if that's a no go for whatever reason, I'd seriously consider working up the courage to talk to authorities in your department. 

And not that my situation is anywhere near as serious as yours or comparable, but just to say that I empathize with you, sexual harassment/assault is indeed terrible. I was sexually assaulted (inappropriate touching) by a stranger at a bus stop while in a foreign city on a research trip earlier this summer. I happened to have a meeting with my advisor (male) scheduled four days later and I told him what happened and that I had filed a sexual assault report with the city police. When I said 'sexual assault' my advisor immediately assumed the worst (rape). (Side note: while I don't blame my advisor at all for assuming this and it's definitely better than not being believed, I do think it's a reflection of the way that society conditions people to define sexual assault as only rape but nothing else - another problem but I digress). After a briefly awkward moment spent clearing up that misconception, he was so relieved to learn that it wasn't the worst case scenario that his unintentionally dramatic exclamation of relief made both of us laugh in spite of the initial tension of the conversation. He was so sympathetic and understanding and even followed up with me about how I was doing with it at our next meeting (for those who read my post from like two days ago, he really is a great person...I make him sound worse than he is). Anyway, this post is not about me, but I say that just to say that sometimes you might be surprised at how sympathetic people can be, even if they're male. 

Not that this offers legal help, but do consider visiting your university's counseling center if you need support. There are so many emotions that one experiences after this and you shouldn't have to go through them alone. Take care. 
 

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Is there an Ombuds officer or ombuds department at your school? They can direct you to the policies and proper channels for reporting this. I'm sorry this happened to you. :(

http://ombuds-blog.blogspot.com/p/higher-ed.html

Good read: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/05/12/advice-graduate-students-dealing-sexual-assault-and-harassment-essay

Edited by NoirFemme
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Sexual harassment - YES
Overreacting - NO

Next steps - find out where and who to report this to. You should probably start with student support services or the campus police. You may also have success going to the university's HR department, as they are usually well suited to handle this type of issue.

Frankly, I am appalled at what your supervisor said, that was totally inappropriate (and borders on harassment itself). I would have a hard time holding my tongue and not replying with a 'maybe that is how you got where you are' type of comment.

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What the heck?!! As others said, yes, this is totally sexual harassment, and no, you are definitely not overreacting just because he didn't physically harm you.

There are lots of good advice above, but some of it won't apply, unfortunately, since your sidebar info says you are in Canada and things like Title IX is an American law (which protects students against sexual or gender based discrimination/harassment) at US schools. Depending on the school, the Title IX office can be an excellent resource, or not very helpful at all (based on my experience at US schools and talking to American students).

However, the common theme in the advice above is that if you want something to be done about it, you need to go beyond your department. You did the right thing by talking to your advisor first, after all, it makes sense that you thought you could trust her with this. Unfortunately, it turns out that she will not be supportive. Just want to say that you didn't do anything wrong by speaking to your supervisor....she was the one that let you down and it's not your fault.

Canadian schools operate differently depending on your province, but the best people to ultimately go to would be the university ombudsperson or the Graduate school. However, although there are systems and protocols meant to protect students, sometimes they (intentionally or not) protect faculty and harassers more than students. I would also suggest considering first seeking help from a source that will be your advocate, that will be on your side first, not a neutral third party like the ombudsperson or Graduate school.

Find someone on campus who will listen to you and who will help you navigate your options. Some potential groups are women's groups on campus, student government, the Union (if your school unionizes their grad students), etc. Take care of yourself first, and find this support.

Meanwhile, document everything so that if/when you are ready to speak out about this, you have data/evidence. Keep records of any emails sent so far. Take notes on all conversations you had about this with any person. Know that while you have every right to speak out about this and let people know, you need to also protect yourself. Unfortunately, there are so many cases where students speak out against faculty members doing bad things like this and there is very little action taken, and it ends up hurting the student. I'm not trying to scare you into silence, but it's important to protect yourself as well. There is no shame in waiting until you are in a position of power yourself before taking more serious action. At the same time, know that some of your options might include telling someone like the graduate school but not taking further action. Maybe you're not the only complaint and your report becomes the 20th report on this faculty member and allows someone to actually do something about this person.

I'm sorry you have to deal with this. I hope that the supportive groups I mentioned will be able to help you navigate the pros/cons of what you could do next.

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I definitely think more clarification on the context is needed here to really jump to giving advice.

How did this exactly occur, where, and how did it even come up in conversation?

It makes a big deal because for example if professor in a different department propositioned you in a private and social setting and there was some kind of dual dialogue that led up to it, it may not be sexual harassment (could easily be construed as inappropriate or whatever). If this person propositioned you without being led on in say his office, then yes obviously it is.

Edited by Comparativist
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It's very disturbing how almost all the commenters here are saying that this was definitely sexual harassment. I'm not saying it wasn't. But based on the description of the events given by OP, it's far from clear that it was. Both men and women sometimes receive romantic/sexual overtures that they do not reciprocate. It does not become "sexual harassment" merely by virtue of the fact that the person who does the propositioning is employed by the same university where you happen to be a student. Sexual harassment involves persistent unwanted advances, an explicit or implicit threat, inappropriate touching, or something along those lines. OP doesn't mention anything like. It's suspicious that OP's advisor--who presumably knows the facts better than any of us--told her that it wasn't harassment.

Now OP asks if she should try to ruin this man's life by having him labeled/punished as a sexual harasser. All we've been told is that a man propositioned a woman and she turned him down. If that's the whole story, then OP's advisor was right.

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OP here.

Here is your context: The man is married, with children older than me. We had a meeting in a meeting room with a group of people - - he isn't in my department but he is an investigator on a project I work on. After the meeting, he asked me to go with him because he had additional paperwork for me. He then said he wanted me to go home with him or he could come to my place, "just to explore." I told him no.

At the next meeting, he said he wanted to have sex and said it turned him on that I will have his children because that is what happens when he, you know.

My advisor said that was the highest compliment a man could give you as he wants you to "pass on his genes" (her words). 

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That's sexual harassment, doesn't matter what everyone says otherwise.

It seems to me that your supervisor simply doesn't wanna engage in situation like these, which can distract her own work (I definitely have had a PI like that). I would file a complaint to the HR department (or its equivalence).

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Yeah, that's obviously harassment and certainly against numerous policies at your university.

Report him to your department head + the appropriate university-wide administration that handles these issues. Cease all contact.

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orange turtle - Thanks for context. That is worse than what you originally described. It seems like he's guilty of propositioning you in a crude and inappropriate way. Is it possible that he's on the autistic spectrum or otherwise impaired at reading social situations? Still, so far he's only made one unambiguous advance, and you told him no. If he does something similar again, then I think it would count as "persistent" unwanted advances and it would be bona fide sexual harassment. Maybe you could tell his wife what happened...I'm sure she would make sure it doesn't happen again.

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1 hour ago, aberrant said:

That's sexual harassment, doesn't matter what everyone says otherwise.

It seems to me that your supervisor simply doesn't wanna engage in situation like these, which can distract her own work (I definitely have had a PI like that). I would file a complaint to the HR department (or its equivalence).

I agree with the first bit, but I'm not so confident with the second.

As with the others here, I find your adviser's advice (particularly the tone of her delivery) to be, at best, inconsiderate and insensitive. But that does not mean that it is necessarily wrong. You need to ask yourself if you're willing to die on this hill. Filing this sort of complaint, particularly over your adviser's objections, and particularly if it ends up not going anywhere, can have a serious impact on your career. I'm not saying I think it should, but we deal with the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be.

My advice is to do your homework. Figure out how strong of a case you have and how the evidence you will give will filter through the administrative process. If you only have your own word for what happened, is it likely to be dismissed? Can you find other examples of sexual harassment complaints at your university? How successful were they, and why? If you can't find any (or only a few), do you think that's because none exist or because the university does not want them to exist? Is this what your adviser was trying to tell you, in her own crude way?

You need to consider your adviser, as well, regardless of whether she's included in the formal process. What's her relationship to the harasser? She's clearly not likely to support you, but if you pursue this, will she actively oppose you? Do you think she might have had a relationship with the man in question? Will you have any confidence in any letters of recommendation she writes? Will she talk about you positively to her peers at conferences? Will you need to find a new adviser? Can you, or would you have to switch schools?

And yeah, these are some pretty scary questions, and the fact that you need to ask them is precisely why sexual harassment goes unreported, and why, ultimately, the guy felt confident in making advances. Turns out the patriarchy sucks kind of a lot, but is really rather good at what it does.

Edited by telkanuru
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Hi everyone: I wasn't actually of reporting him, even before I posted here. I was just trying to figure out if a line had been crossed and what I should do (e.g., quit the project). That's why I wanted to talk to the chair as he would probably know the best thing to do.

In Canada, there is no "duty to report" as I understand Title XI has. I can disclose, like for advice and so the department knows in case someone else reports it, without wanting to file an official report.

Thank you for the support and for helping me clarify this in my head, all.

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15 hours ago, serenade said:

 It sounds even worse coming from a fellow woman as one would expect a female supervisor of all people to understand. Not that this is in any way an excuse, but I do wonder how old she is and whether she comes from a generation where this type of behavior was so common among women in academia that it almost seems like a rite of passage to her, hence the "suck it up" comment. Even if so, this is a mindset that most definitely needs to change within academia. 

And not that my situation is anywhere near as serious as yours or comparable, but just to say that I empathize with you, sexual harassment/assault is indeed terrible. I was sexually assaulted (inappropriate touching) by a stranger at a bus stop while in a foreign city on a research trip earlier this summer. I happened to have a meeting with my advisor (male) scheduled four days later and I told him what happened and that I had filed a sexual assault report with the city police. When I said 'sexual assault' my advisor immediately assumed the worst (rape). (Side note: while I don't blame my advisor at all for assuming this and it's definitely better than not being believed, I do think it's a reflection of the way that society conditions people to define sexual assault as only rape but nothing else - another problem but I digress). After a briefly awkward moment spent clearing up that misconception, he was so relieved to learn that it wasn't the worst case scenario that his unintentionally dramatic exclamation of relief made both of us laugh in spite of the initial tension of the conversation. He was so sympathetic and understanding and even followed up with me about how I was doing with it at our next meeting (for those who read my post from like two days ago, he really is a great person...I make him sound worse than he is). Anyway, this post is not about me, but I say that just to say that sometimes you might be surprised at how sympathetic people can be, even if they're male. 
 

I don't know how old my supervisor is, but she got her PhD from an ivy league in 1975.

And I don't think your situation is not as serious. Assault is assault and it's horrible, at least to me. Thank you for sharing.

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1 hour ago, rphilos said:

orange turtle - Thanks for context. That is worse than what you originally described. It seems like he's guilty of propositioning you in a crude and inappropriate way. Is it possible that he's on the autistic spectrum or otherwise impaired at reading social situations? Still, so far he's only made one unambiguous advance, and you told him no. If he does something similar again, then I think it would count as "persistent" unwanted advances and it would be bona fide sexual harassment. Maybe you could tell his wife what happened...I'm sure she would make sure it doesn't happen again.

I was hoping not to have to divulge the whole conversation as it was hard for me to say them out loud.

As for one instant, it was twice (see post on context). At different meetings. I see him every week. And I have to see him again on Thursday :-(

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49 minutes ago, Concordia said:

Keep good notes.

Even if you don't want to file a formal complaint, using it as a reason that you want to leave his project may have some of the same effect.

This is a really good point. Document everything - times, places, who else was there, subjects of conversation. If the guy lets the matter drop, it's a waste of time. If not, then it's not.

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4 hours ago, rphilos said:

orange turtle - Thanks for context. That is worse than what you originally described. It seems like he's guilty of propositioning you in a crude and inappropriate way. Is it possible that he's on the autistic spectrum or otherwise impaired at reading social situations? Still, so far he's only made one unambiguous advance, and you told him no. If he does something similar again, then I think it would count as "persistent" unwanted advances and it would be bona fide sexual harassment. Maybe you could tell his wife what happened...I'm sure she would make sure it doesn't happen again.

I think I understand where you are getting at, but I believe this type of advice is very bad advice because of the way power dynamics work in academia, thinking like this will led to very few things being reported. In many cases, whether it's sexual harassment or other types of bad behaviour, it is easy for a grad student to incorrectly blame themselves or assume that the behaviour is "normal" or "expected". 

When an incident like this happens and someone thinks they need to make a Title IX report, the complainant (to use the policy's term) should not have to justify or investigate or determine whether or not the action they are complaining about fits whatever the definition of "harassment" you want to use. I think a lot of people misunderstand what actually happens with a Title IX report.

The point of a Title IX office and a Title IX coordinator is to collect these reports/complaints/whatever-you-want-to-call-them. If anyone feels that something is amiss, they should make a report/complaint. Making a report does not "ruin someone's life" (see the many cases in the news where people who are found guilty yet still continue to work) nor does it label someone as an offender. Making a report is exactly what it sounds like: you report it to some central office. If the Title IX coordinator decides that the report/information is actionable, then they will start and coordinate an investigation. This due process is what will determine if someone violated the policy and what actions needs to be taken. Note that sometimes, for small offenses, such as situations where someone just doesn't know the social norms, the "action" can simply be education or training. I will also note that often the worst offenders will use this excuse as a reason to behave badly. 

For years, I worked as part of a group of grad students advising the Title IX office on policy education and outreach. So I know the process very well at my school (could be different at others). But, at our school, we always encourage people to say something if their "gut feeling" tells them something feels wrong. If it's not actually wrong, then no big deal. But if it is actually a problem, then no one can do anything unless information is collected. This goes back to my first paragraph: often, the people in positions of less power might assume that action X is okay even if it feels wrong. I believe it's far better to encourage people to report "X" to the Title IX office whenever it feels wrong, rather than to have to "investigate" it themselves to find out if it's wrong. The authority and responsibility to investigate lies with the Title IX investigators, not the complainant. 

Finally, I would also have to disagree that harassment (or Title IX violations) must happen at least twice (or whatever you decide) to count. Harassment could be repeat occurrences, but it could also be one single severe occurrence. In addition, it could also be many moderate severity occurrences happening to five different people, but only once to each person. These are all things that the Title IX office should be aware of, and if people don't report "X" when it feels wrong, it may never proceed to investigation and the offender can harm a large number of students one at a time. 

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@TakeruK: thank you for a very in-depth explanation of the process. I had no idea.

I bumped into my advisor today and she started telling me all the harassment she saw and experienced as a grad student and she named all the culprits. And she finished with a general off-hand comment that went along the lines of "yours isn't bad; other people got it worse and survived." And the conversation ended there because she told me to get back to work.     

So as @serenade said, to her, it is a rite of passage.

I'm going to read all the other comments and suggestions and take what wisdom I can from it.

Thank you, EVERYONE. Your answers have given me much to think about.

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4 hours ago, TakeruK said:

When an incident like this happens and someone thinks they need to make a Title IX report, the complainant (to use the policy's term) should not have to justify or investigate or determine whether or not the action they are complaining about fits whatever the definition of "harassment" you want to use....

...If anyone feels that something is amiss, they should make a report/complaint. Making a report does not "ruin someone's life" (see the many cases in the news where people who are found guilty yet still continue to work) nor does it label someone as an offender....due process is what will determine if someone violated the policy and what actions needs to be...

Based on the details that OP has now revealed, I agree that she was sexually harassed. However, your suggestion that you should "not have to justify" charges (related to sexual harassment or anything else) before making them because the justice system will conduct an investigation is grossly immoral. If someone feels uncomfortable because they were asked out by someone they're not interested in, or if they misinterpret an off-color joke, it would be seriously wrong to make any sort of complaint against that person, even if they are eventually vindicated. Merely being accused of sexual harassment is a traumatic and stigmatizing experience. You should only make accusations if you are justified in doing so. (In OP's case she is justified.)

 

4 hours ago, TakeruK said:

Finally, I would also have to disagree that harassment (or Title IX violations) must happen at least twice (or whatever you decide) to count. Harassment could be repeat occurrences, but it could also be one single severe occurrence.

In my description of what constitutes sexual harassment, I mentioned "persistent unwanted advances" as one kind of sexual harassment. I said sexual harassment could also involve "an explicit or implicit threat, inappropriate touching, or something along those lines," which could all be "single occurrence."

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@orange turtle, I am sorry that you were propositioned. 

I am also sorry that your supervisor failed to provide an appropriate amount of empathy.

In addition to the guidance to contact the ombudsman, please consider contacting your school's HR department, and your school's health services. These institutions may help to guide you towards qualified individuals who can provide you with the support you want.

@TakeruK, does Title IX apply to Canadian academic institutions?

 

 

 

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