Every breath you take

Every breath you take

He's watching you. You can't concentrate, you're afraid to be alone with him, and the comments won't stop. Sexual harassment can be relentless, consuming your work and your life. It happened to these women—and it could happen to you. Here's what every woman (and man) should know about sexual harassment.

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She was alone in the dark room when it happened. The lights were off, but she could feel him behind her, a presence standing close in the darkness. Anna paused in the midst of popping the X-ray film from the cassette. She felt the heat rush to her face and the slow cascade of sweat tracing a line down the back of her neck. He was close, so close, and he wanted her to know it. "Oh my God," she thought. "What am I going to do?" She heard him chuckle before he leaned forward, grinding the front of his body against her back.

"You know you like it," he said, laughing.

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Too scared to scream. Embarrassed. Ashamed. She didn't want the other technicians to know. What would they think? She was young, new, vulnerable. He knew it. Her stomach rolled with the sensation of his body pressing against her own. She whirled and kicked him in the crotch. He laughed again and stepped back. Then he left the room.

Anna's experience may sound extreme, but it's not as unusual as you might think. About one-third of veterinary team members say they've experienced sexual harassment at work, according to a 2007 VetMedTeam.com survey. And it's not surprising. Ninety-five percent of team members are women, according to 2007 Firstline research, and women are much more likely to experience sexual harassment than men. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported males filed only 16 percent of the 12,510 complaints in fiscal year 2007.

Traditionally, veterinarians and practice owners have been male, and 2007 market research from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) shows 53.5 percent of veterinarians in private clinical practice are male. This demonstrates the pattern experts often see in sexual harassment cases: Women are more likely to face sexual harassment when they enter a male-dominated profession, according to research published in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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Can you protect yourself? Sometimes. Our experts agree these cases can happen to almost anyone, but you can decrease your riskā€”and learn how to correctly handle any experience you face. Consider these true stories from readers like you and advice from legal and human resources experts.