Intercom Online......September 7, 2000

Professor's Web site plays major role
in curbing sexual harassment

When Nancy Wyatt developed a Web site five years ago to provide up-to-date information about sexual harassment for a communications course she was teaching, she figured it would be useful for students on her campus.

Never in her wildest dreams did Wyatt, an associate professor of speech communication and women's studies at Penn State Delaware County who labels herself a feminist, think her Web site would attain the international popularity that it has. As an example, the site recorded 7,998 visits from people in 43 countries between July 16 and Aug. 13. It ranks among the most-frequently used sexual harassment sites on the Internet, according to several search engines, and is part of The Citadel military college's sexual harassment tutorial.

"The more people who use it, the happier I am," Wyatt said. "Many workplaces and schools have no education or training programs about sexual harassment, in spite of the legal requirement to do so."

As attention to her Web site has increased, so has Wyatt's effort to help people deal with issues of sexual harassment. The professor personally answers every inquiry sent to her -- either offering her knowledge in the area, or referring the person to someone else who can help.

Correspondence from people who really need help keeps Wyatt actively updating the site, which earns her no pay and is not a part of her research interests at Penn State. She doesn't claim to be an expert on the issue, but Wyatt knows the basics and keeps current with legal and theoretical developments.

Wyatt believes that, generally speaking, sexual harassment is not the result of a desire for intimate contact.

"It's about power -- that's my personal opinion. It's not about sex," she said. "It usually happens because someone thinks that women don't belong in the workplace, at a university, or wherever."

Wyatt thinks that many times, harassers don't know their behavior is offensive.

"When appropriate, I encourage people to tell the offender that what they did was offensive," she said. "You have to give them the opportunity to say they didn't mean to offend you and that they are sorry and will cease the inappropriate behavior. If that's enough, then that's the end of it. If not, you have to take formal action."

The face of sexual harassment is changing rapidly, said Wyatt, as the legal system continues to show less tolerance toward same-sex offenders and offenders in venues that traditionally may have been ignored, and scholars develop theoretical perspectives from which to understand and deal with harassment. For that reason, Web sites such as Wyatt's that frequently update content are in demand.

And that could link Wyatt to her Web site for a long time.

"My Web site is important because it gives people information about harassment from a variety of perspectives and in a form that's easy to use," said Wyatt. "If I took it down, then I would be taking away an important service for people all over the world."

Wyatt's site can be accessed at http://www.de.psu.edu/harass/intro.htm.

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