Ever since women have entered the workforce in large numbers, the problem of Sexual Harassment has gained a momentum of its own. Though women may be highly educated, have the requisite qualifications and work shoulder to shoulder with men, almost 60% are subjected to unwelcome sexually determined behavior by the opposite sex. Even women doctors are not exempt, and many are sexually harassed by senior doctors, consultants, interns and male patients. In educational institutions, about 55% of students complain of sexual harassment by teachers or fellow students. One cannot walk on the roads or travel by public transport without being harassed by bullies or even teasers. Sexual harassment cuts across all socio-economic barriers.
At every level of the entertainment world, starting from the very beginning of silent movies to the current stage of the theatre, sexual harassment is a source of stress and shame for women. With a spotlight being blasted on Harvey Weinstein being fired for his unlawful deviant behavior, the entertainment industry union SAG-AFTRA which stands for Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has issued a code of conduct in an effort to protect its members from sexual harassment in the workplace. The code published Saturday (2/10/18) says that employers are obligated to provide a harassment-free workplace and must have mechanisms for reporting it without fear of retaliation.
As you might have guessed, this initiative was spurred by the disturbing number of sexual misconduct allegations that have come out of Hollywood in the past few months.
Gender discrimination and role stereotypes are the reason for such behavior. Some men feel that the biological roles of wife, mother and home maker are violated by women who step out of their homes for employment.
Women too have come out with extreme ideas of playing “super woman.” Some aspects of Feminism make men feel distinctly uneasy and paranoid. They try to get even through sexual harassment. After all, they too are victims of stereotyping. Most men think that “good women” don’t get sexually harassed. But “bad women” invite trouble by their behavior and dress and this is totally a misconception.
In the context of this rapidly changing socio-economic scenario, more women are likely to seek employment outside their homes. It is therefore time for society to remember that women are human beings too, and must be allowed the dignity of their rights.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Everyone is entitled to their own private space. When that space is violated by verbal, non-verbal or physical forms of sexually suggestive behavior, it amounts to harassment. This covers a range of behavior starting from unwelcome comments about a person’s body to sexual abuse and sexual assault. The harasser may be openly sexist in his/her remarks or present a veneer of respectability, but make sly passes or propositions when the victim is alone.
Sexual harassment can take many forms in the workplace. It can include physical harassment, verbal harassment, visual harassment and written harassment.
Verbal harassment is the most common form of harassments and may include whistling, telling obscene jokes, making comments about someone’s anatomy, or making offensive comments. Excessive badgering another worker for a date may also be considered verbal harassment.
Visual harassment includes ogling, leering, staring and making obscene gestures with a sexual connotation to another individual in the workplace.
The perpetrators of sexual harassment can be as widely varied as the offensive behaviors themselves. There does not need to be a supervisor-employee relationship for an action to be considered harassment. An individual can be sexually harassed by someone of the opposite sex, or of the same sex. It can occur between two employees of an organization, or can occur between an employee and an independent contractor, or an employee and a customer or client of the organization. It does not matter who is perpetrating the sexual harassment for the Company to be liable for the individual’s actions.
Types of Harassments.
- The most common type is the quid pro quo harassment in which sexual favors are expected in exchange for jobs, promotions, grades or recommendations. This is gross misuse of power by employers, teachers, politicians or film directors with ‘casting couch’ requirements.
- Predators get their thrills by humiliating women either by innuendos, crank calls, teasing or phone sex. They make sexually colored remarks or unwanted physical contact by pinching, pawing, kissing or groping.
- Some men establish a mentor-like relationship with the victim by pretending to offer professional or academic counseling. But soon their sexual intentions surface.
- Serial harassers are masters at the game. They strike in private so that there are no witnesses. It is just the victim’s word against theirs.
- Some use harassment as an ego boost. Victims are subjected to porn films, nude pictures and suggestive language.
- Harassment can be used as a revenge tactic if a person feels rejected or snubbed. These bullies make physical or verbal advances, use obscene language, crack vulgar jokes and create an unpleasant environment.
- There are stalkers who watch, follow, flash or bombard the victim with letters or e-mails.
- Many operate in groups, harassing women in buses, trains or on the roads by pulling their clothes, or touching their breasts or buttocks.
Effects of Sexual Harassment.
Psychologists are of the opinion that chronic sexual harassment has the same effect as rape or sexual assault. The message that harassers send out is that “You are a non-person. You don’t matter. Therefore I am free to harass you because no one will believe you if you tell.”
– Many victims begin to show poor performance at work or in studies
– Some relocate to another city or job or college.
– The victim feels humiliated and is frustrated that she has no control of the situation.
How to Deal with Sexual Harassment.
This is a punishable offense and there are laws to protect you. Every woman should be aware of her rights under the law. Sexual harassment should be recognized and not ignored. The victim must put up resistance and show her distaste for such behavior. She can have an open talk with her harasser and tell him to lay off.
This may lead to unpleasant repercussions especially if he is the boss. He may start picking faults with her work, send her memos, or withhold recommendations and make life miserable for her.
The victim should not give into self-doubt and lose confidence in herself. By failing to challenge sexual harassment she can undermine her position. She should continue to go to work or college. But she should also document incidents of harassment, date, time, place and people involved and witnesses. She should make a complaint in writing with specific details, to whoever is in the supervising cadre.
It is good to talk to women who have been similarly harassed and form a mutually supportive group. There are many women’s groups and NGOs who will take up the victim’s cause if the management does not come to help her.
If harassment of a serious nature takes place in a public place, the matter should be brought to the attention of the police.
Responsibility of the Employer.
– Employers both in public and private sector must take steps to prevent sexual harassment.
– There should be a definite policy on this matter, which should be published and circulated to all employees.
– A procedure for filing complaints should be mapped out. This should be time bound, and the victim should be assured of confidentiality and protection.
– A Grievance Committee with a woman at its head should review the complaint. The committee should be comprised of 50% women members where possible.
– Disciplinary action should be taken against the harasser. If his behavior falls under criminal law, he should be reported to the police.
Any woman who complains about sexual harassment must steel herself for a backlash. She risks hostility, isolation, denigration of character or even physical harm. Because others in the company will turn their backs on you.
It must be society’s aim and responsibility to eliminate sexual harassment at all levels and in all situations, to preserve the dignity of women.
I would love to hear your comments or experiences on sexual harassment.