'Textual harassment' on the rise

September 2, 2009 7:55:54 AM PDT
Both men and women can be hit with unwelcome advances at work. Sexual harassment is evolving along with technology. More people are getting inappropriate text messages. Eyewitness News shows you what you need to know if you're ever a victim of textual harassment. "You've got modern technology colliding with workplace rules and behavior," said Houston attorney Katrina Patrick.

Trolling for sex through texts. It's called textual harassment and it's on the rise.

"Textual harassment is really becoming a powerful mode of harassment," said Patrick.

Patrick is handling two textual harassment cases. In one instance, a man sent "graphic, nude photographs and images of himself to my client."

All were sent via text.

"I like how you look. You're sexy," said one of Patrick's clients, whom we'll call Jackie.

She showed us records of messages sent to her. In the messages, Jackie's colleague calls her "sweetie" and "foxy." He writes, "ur very beautiful. I like your body" and refers to "wild dreams" where the two were "engaged in wild sex."

"It's disgusting, it makes you feel dirty," Jackie said.

Often, she says, he would text while the two were assisting with surgeries with a patient on the operating table.

"I was like, What did I do? What did I say to make him think that this was okay?" said Jackie.

Labor attorney Charles Wilson defends companies that get caught up in textual harassment lawsuits.

"It's not something teenagers do, it's actually adults in the workplace that are doing it," said Wilson.

He says liability to employers could be grave if they know about the harassment, but choose to ignore it.

"If you're made aware about it, then you need to do something about it. Period," said Wilson.

Wilson says the more firm your company's policies against textual harassment, the better.

"If you're too lenient, not only are you creating potential liability for yourself as a company, you're also sending the wrong message to your employees," said Wilson.

As for people like Jackie, who receive these unwanted texts, Patrick suggests first telling the person to stop.

"It's important to communicate very short, succinctly and firmly to say, I don't welcome this behavior," said Patrick.

Next, tell your employer what's happening. If you feel threatened or intimidated, then contact police. Be sure to save the back-and-forth text messages. Different cell phone carriers handle records uniquely, so talk to your provider early on and try to get hard copies of the records.

Jackie was able to lock her texts. She has since changed her number, her carrier and quit her job. Now she hopes to wrap up her legal battle in the coming weeks.

There are 46 states with criminal laws against text messages and Texas is one of them. Attorneys note it doesn't matter whether you're getting harassing texts on a personal cell phone or after hours, you can still report it and companies could still be held liable.

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