“Unchecked harassment creates a climate of disrespect,” according to a psychology professor. It also creates a company culture that can be unsafe and dangerous to employees' health.

You should be alert for these emerging trends in workplace victimization, reports HR magazine:

“Homosexual” victims — In many workplaces, the harshest abuse is reserved for individuals who are perceived as homosexual, regardless of whether they are or are not.

Teenage victims — Several recent lawsuits have involved young girls who were groped, asked for lap dances or even raped. It may be particularly important to train and review harassment policies with teenage workers before summer, when the number of U.S. workers ages 15 to 17 swells to four million from three million.

Muslim victims — Since Sept. 11, 2001, much of the religion-based harassment has been directed at Muslims, and it’s a trend that shows no sign of abating soon.

Why do the worst harassers and abusers act the way they do? Says one psychotherapist: Such people say and do outrageous things that cause intense fear, shame or humiliation because they’re psychologically incapable of feeling the other person’s pain. They also tend to lack insight into their own motivations. “These people may have absolutely no idea how insensitive they are.”

When confronting such individuals, you need to spell out the problem in very clear, concrete terms.

Experts caution if a company fails to respond effectively, anyone who might be prone to cruel or vile behavior may feel that a green light has been given, and the behavior can quickly escalate to the next level. A message that misconduct will be tolerated or even condoned is probably the number one factor contributing to egregious workplace behavior, according to the article. The absence of a clear “stop” sign often is interpreted as “go.”

What to do? First, get buy-in from the person at the very top of the organization, says a human resources consultant. Show how harassment will ultimately affect the bottom line.

That shouldn't be difficult, considering all the potential costs associated with egregious behavior. Once you’ve secured support at the top, it’s easier to send a strong message to all those below.

Just having an anti-harassment policy, complaint mechanism and investigation procedure in place isn’t enough, though. You need to make sure that they’re actually used, which means having safeguards to protect complainants from retaliation.

Two emerging danger zones you may want to address are:

  • Email, which is all too often used for distributing offensive “jokes” and explicit pornography.

  • Home offices or remote satellite offices where employees and their assistants may be operating with very little supervision.