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How to Deal with unwelcome sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is the persistent unwelcome sexual remarks, look and excessive unnecessary physical contact with the opposite sex [a woman in particular], especially in the workplace. It is also an inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. It typically becomes a harassment when unwelcome sexual advances is made by a superior employer to the vulnerable, defenceless, helpless, and gullible employee. It becomes a case of nuisance when countless number of complaints is made on several occasions by the victim. This mostly makes a person feel threatened, offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Sexual harassment is not interaction or friendship which is mutual or consensual between partners. It includes a range of actions from mild transgressions to sexual abuse or sexual assault. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a superior or a co-worker.

Sexual harassment can take different forms; it can be obvious or indirect, physical or verbal, repeated or one-off and performed by males and females against people of the same or opposite sex. It is generally aimed at women, although some cases of sexual harassment have been against men too. It reckons that around 80 per cent of women either are, will be or have been subjected to some sort of sexual harassment during their working lives. It’s not only a case of the “office thing,” it can happen to people of all ages, in all working conditions, in many different parts of the society.

Sexual harassment could be in form of unwelcome comments about clothes, body or appearance, or suggestive comments, jokes, insults or taunts of a sexual nature, downright indecent remarks, intrusive questions or statements about your private life.

Non-verbal harassment takes the form of display of suggestive posters, calendars or pin-up magazines or screen savers of explicit sexual nature around your office space. Deliberate and obviously staring or leering at a person’s body (or a specific part of it!) and sending explicit emails or text messages are common forms of harassment. Some send nude pictures with explicit comments to persons of their interest. Another form is threatening to post an employee to far flung remote areas from their family unless they yield to pressure. Some harassed employees face threat of sacking or compulsory leave even when the company is short-staffed while others are left on a spot without any promotion even when it is obvious that they are due.

Sexual harassment doesn’t generally happen immediately, but often tends to gather momentum over a period of time. And because of the level of high unemployment and poverty in our society, many God-fearing, well behaved individuals have yielded to the pressure of sexual harassment.

But sexual harassment can be handled appropriately.

We must all bear in mind that someone has to speak out; you can humbly confront the harasser by just making your point and standing very clear, speaking slowly and clearly, while making eye contact and maintaining it. You tell them how you see their behaviour, how it makes you feel and that you want it to stop; do not allow them to try to trivialise what happens or dismiss your feelings. Do not apologise or be nervous; if you do that, it will only undermine the seriousness of what you’re saying. Try as much as possible to have a good grip of yourself; say your piece of mind in a very respective manner.

If you find the idea of confronting them face to face too disrespectful, simply write them a letter explaining their behaviour and how it makes you feel. Keep a copy of it and say, in no uncertain terms that if it continues, you will take further action.

Keeping documentation of times and places where the behaviour took place and whether anyone else was present at the time can help you in future. If your life or work is severely threatened, then, it is time to take the matter further. Speak to your employer, take someone with you if possible as a form of witness, or alternatively to back up your claims. When all else fails, you can just hand over the case to God in prayer. But bear in mind that sexual harassment, in the eyes of the law is clearly unacceptable behaviour. It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex.

Source: Punch

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