It is very interesting how sexual harassment is viewed in many different setups. Mostly, you will find that in male dominated businesses, it is not even a topic for discussion; it “does not” exist.
Males who feel dominant over women will not see any of their sexual advances as a problem. Whereas, in other setups, though uncommon (in the sense that it is not spoken about enough), it is an issue that has been acknowledged. My question is, as employees/employers, how aware are we of this growing catastrophe?
In the previous article, we talked about childhood traumas that have an influence on our behaviour in adulthood. Apparently, sexual harassment can and may be as a result of effects of childhood sexual abuse. This is not to say that, in all cases, the abuser would have been a victim or survivor (as I prefer to call them) of childhood sexual abuse.
Maybe let us look at how it has been defined and what may be termed as sexual harassment.
We have already talked about some forms of sexual harassment in the last article. These may also include:
- unwelcome sexual advances
- requests for sexual favours
- other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
- Unwelcome sexual jokes or questions about your sex life
- Whistling, rude gestures
- Staring at your body in an offensive way
Sexual harassment can be defined as bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours.
Now, I have been in many dissimilar setups and discovered that men and women relate differently and according to their work environment. In the industrial sort of setup, they will throw a sexual joke or two at each other and this may be acceptable. Whereas in a formal office setup, depending obviously on a lot of factors, jokes of such a nature may be unpopular.
Where do we draw the line? When does it seize being an innocent adult joke and cross over to being some form of sexual harassment? It is comparatively difficult to distinguish what is innocent and what is likely to be an offence. Alarmingly, sexual harassment is not limited to work environments only. As a woman, imagine going to your gynaecologist (who is male) for a general check-up. How do you determine whether he is being a pervert or just doing his job? The uncertainty that may arise from such a predicament is not meant to make one hesitate to report any such incidences. But, in order to win your case you really have to be able to prove the authenticity of your accusation or you can be left frustrated.
What can one do when they have been sexually harassed? You can either deal with it informally or formally. This may depend on the nature or intensity of the harassment or relationship with the abuser and/or work environment amongst other things.
This is when you try to sort out the problem without taking up a grievance (formal workplace complaint) against the abuser. Below are some guidelines:
- Talk to the abuser and ask him/her to stop the behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable
- Have someone present to avoid feeling uncomfortable while you address the issue
- If you don’t want a verbal confrontation then write/text the abuser and keep a record of your message
- In the case of fear, you can ask someone to speak to the abuser on your behalf
This is where a formal procedure has been chosen by the aggrieved. The procedure should:
- Specify to whom the employee should lodge the grievance
- Make reference to timeframes which allow the grievance to be dealt with expeditiously
- Provide that if the case is not resolved satisfactorily, the issue can be dealt with in terms of the dispute procedures contained in your country’s code of law
While women are much more likely to be victims of sexual harassment precisely because they, more often than men, lack power, are in more vulnerable and insecure positions, or have been socialized to suffer in silence; it does not mean men cannot be victims too.
In the following article we will talk with relevant authorities in areas of childhood trauma effects on adults, sexual harassment, how to deal with unresolved childhood trauma and where to seek help, legally, if need be.
Remember though, you have the right to:
- A workplace that is free from sexual harassment
- Be treated equally and with dignity and respect at work
- Not be discriminated against because of race, gender and your HIV status
- To report sexual harassment without fear of victimisation (ill-treatment)
- Have your complaint treated seriously and confidentially