Defying assumptions about sexual harassment in the workplace, a record percentage of men reported being harassed by male colleagues last year, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Cases filed by men made up 15.4 percent of the 12,025 sexual harassment charges in fiscal year 2006, compared to 14.3 percent in 2005 and 11.6 percent a decade ago, according to the EEOC.
New Realities in the Workplace
"There's no question this is not only a growing category of claims, but also a large societal problem of which we are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg," says Riki Wilchins, executive director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.
Although the statistics don't reveal whether the alleged harassers of men also are male, they typically are -- it's rare for a man to file charges against a female coworker or supervisor, says EEOC spokesman David Grinberg.
It's also unlikely that interactions in the workplace between men have become more hostile over the past 15 years.
What's changed, though, is recognition by the legal system of male-on-male harassment, via a landmark 1998 Supreme Court ruling. The high court found in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that same-sex sexual harassment is a form of discrimination protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
An Unwritten Code Changes
"This kind of harassment has always taken place in the workplace," Wilchins says. "But the kind of abrasive, sexualized horseplay that might have been acceptable 10 years ago is actionable today.
"More males realize they don't have to take it -- they can file suit."
While harassment based on sexual orientation is not protected by federal law, it's important to note that in gender-based harassment, the aggressors -- and their victims -- are likely straight.
"We assume that the vast majority of the cases are not individuals who are necessarily gay or transgender, but they're in situations where there are these abrasive codes of masculinity to which men are expected to live up to," Wilchins says.
Know the Signs
What constitutes sexual harassment? According to the EEOC, it happens when submitting to or rejecting "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" affects your job, disrupts your work performance or leads to an "intimidating, hostile or offensive" workplace.
In the case of men harassing other men, these unwelcome behaviors could range from the use of feminine pronouns and sexual taunts, to simulated sex acts and threats of a sexually aggressive nature, according to GenderPAC.
What You Can Do
What to do if you believe you're a victim? The EEOC recommends you first follow internal company complaint procedures.
If your employer cannot -- or will not -- resolve the situation to your satisfaction, you can file a complaint at one of the EEOC's 53 offices.
The agency will investigate, and if it finds evidence to support your claim, will attempt to mediate the case. If necessary, the EEOC will file a lawsuit on your behalf.