Acts & Tips To Be Safe From Workplace Sexual Harassment
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) defines sexual harassment as:
"...any unwanted conduct, which is sexual in nature and can be physical, verbal or non-verbal. The conduct must affect the dignity of the person affected or create a negative or hostile environment. Sexual harassment is relevant in a workplace if granting sexual favours becomes a condition of employment, or refusal to do so affects employment decisions, or if it unreasonably affects the employees' work or creates a hostile environment."
Imagine you’ve got a job at the place you’ve dreamt of but things don’t seem to be going well in your stride. It’s the little behaviour of a certain coworker that’s bothering you. He’s not done anything inappropriate in person and you’re thinking maybe it’s just you. It’s not, if your boss’ or coworkers’ behaviour is making you feel uncomfortable, it needs to be handled.
We’ve been made to think about sexual harassment as a woman being groped or touched inappropriately by an associate or a boss. However, harassment often takes different forms that affect people in different ways. It’s very difficult to come to terms that something like this can happen to you, and women often ignore the red flags blaming themselves for thinking way too much into their associate's behaviour. Listening to your gut is very important, do not deny yourself what’s making you feel uncomfortable.
The behaviour of a boss or co-worker is never supposed to make you feel violated, it’s very important for you to not take in the abuse and take action immediately.
“The first time it happened, I didn’t know what it was. I was like, “What is this strange, artistic, squishy-looking distorted thing?” [When I got the message,] I was upset, humiliated, embarrassed and I felt shame. I knew they didn’t want me there … [I didn’t leave because] I had to pay rent. This was weeks out of college. A new job. Full year lease signed on East 86th Street in New York City. My parents could not afford to pay my rent. I couldn’t imagine I could get another job. I really didn’t feel like I had a choice... I just didn’t even have a conception that you would march yourself into somebody’s office and ask that this stop. So I just kept showing up...
There are many more options than silence.
Big companies have confidential employee hotlines (on board I’ve been on, those calls have been reported directly to the board). So there are many more options today and people should definitely avail themselves of them. If we’re not having these conversations, those old gender expectations and beliefs, that have in part kept us from moving forward professionally, will continue on, unchallenged.” - Sallie Krawcheck to CNBC, January 2017.
Here are some tips that you can keep in mind if you ever find yourself in such a situation:
Trust Your Gut:
If any behaviour of your associate is making you feel uneasy or violated in any form, do not let it pass. Your boss cannot cross certain boundaries with you - know and implement them. If any of their actions feel violative of your boundaries, do not deny yourself of believing what you are going through. Sometimes, a little casual behaviour with one’s peer is considered normal but the minute it starts feeling uneasy or feels like harassment to you - identify it as violative and not casual.
The first tip is to believe yourself of what’s happening to you. Seems easy but we often give our abusers benefit of the doubt which continues the cycle of abuse. Write it down if you have to, but whenever you go through something that’s abusive, make sure you have all the facts and instances right.
Have Faith & Be Strong
It’s totally okay to take a situation that’s abusive and say, “You know what, this is violating my core being,” and to make whoever and whatever violated it, be held accountable for it. While you are taking the complaint to the authorities, do not lose yourself in emotions. Be firm, strong and do not let the harasser manipulate you into either taking back the complaint or threatening you by other means. You need to be strong for your own self right now. Know that this is where you take charge of your situation, do not bow down to the theatrics of the person who violated you.
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” - Benjamin Mee
Call your harasser out because when you don’t do that, he sees your silence as either you being submissive to him or scared of him or even interested in him. Sometimes the harasser would not know that his behaviour is inappropriate. Under any circumstance, the best course is to take a stand and call out whatever action is making you feel uncomfortable.Tell the person that their behaviour is offending and violative. It’s very important to outrightly call out such behaviour. The harasser should know that his behaviour is unwelcome. Direct confrontation is better than giving the benefit of doubts or letting such behaviour go, and hoping it was just a misunderstanding or that it’ll go away.
Let Others Know
When you go through something in the form of harassment - do not hide it, let your peers know and help you gather support. A few other people might be going through something similar. This can help you support your case and move the complaint further. You may find witnesses and allies who would help you through the process. However, choose wisely, who you share this information with.
Know Your Rights
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 protects women at workplace against harassment. The act also covers students in schools and colleges, patients in hospitals and sports institutes.
Organisation Must Have An ICC
Every workplace that has more than 10 employees should constitute an internal complaints committee (ICC) to help address sexual harassment. The inquiry process has to be kept anonymous in order to protect the identities of those interviewed. At least 50% of the committee should consist of women.
The law states that the aggrieved woman can make the complaint (either by writing or verbally) within three months of the incident. If she is unable to do so, then a relative, friend or co-worker can lodge a complaint as long as they have the written consent of the woman. The ICC committee further takes up the case and a proper inquiry is initiated, with the responder being issued a notice within seven days of having received it. The inquiry has to be completed within 90 days. Once it has been completed, a report has to be issued within 10 days of the process.
At times, going up to your human resources manager is the best thing to do, if you are feeling lost about what else to do. Human resources managers have knowledge in matters concerning sexual harassment and discrimination. They can help you take the possible and best course of action. It becomes highly important for you to report the harassment as for your employer to be legally responsible to take action.
It’s important that the abuse has been reported. It’s better if you report it in writing and keep a copy for yourself. Tell the human resources department so that there is an end to the harassment. If there is a policy that employees are supposed to follow when reporting harassment, you should follow the policy.
“One girl before me had already been fired for not losing enough weight fast enough. And, during this time, a female producer had me do a nude lineup with about five women who were much, much thinner than me. And we all stood side-by-side with only paste-on covering our privates. After that degrading and humiliating lineup, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as an inspiration for my diet. I asked to speak to a producer about the unrealistic diet regime and he responded by telling me he didn’t know why everyone thought I was so fat, he thought I was perfectly ‘fuckable’.
I couldn’t have gotten a producer or a director or a studio head fired. I let myself be treated a certain way because I felt like I had to, for my career. I was young and walking that fine line of sticking up for myself without being called difficult, which they did call me, but I believe the word they used was ‘nightmare’. I didn’t want to be a whistleblower. I didn’t want these embarrassing stories talked about in a magazine. I just wanted a career.
I want you to know we’re here for you. We’re all here for each other. Together now, we will stop this kind of behaviour from happening. We will stop normalizing these horrific situations. We will change this narrative and make a difference for all of those individuals pursuing their dreams.” - Jennifer Lawrence to Elle Women in Hollywood, October 2017.
We all need to stand up against the atrocities that happen secretly or not so secretly, victimising us at the end of it all; while the person accused has no shame for the acts. The time is now - to stand up, to speak up, to not let it pass - for yourself and for others.
If you know anyone who has been through sexual harassment, encourage them to report to the authorities. To find out more on how to go about it, join our Maala Community with dedicated counsellors.