Recently, numerous sexual harassment and assault regulations have been made against popular movie producer Harvey Weinstein. From employees to movie stars, more and more women have continued to speak out about their experiences with him. Actors like Gwyneth Paltrow. Angelina Jolie, Clara Delavigne among others were also courageous to step forth and tell their stories. Lupita Ny’ongo in an interview explained how for the longest time she felt she was to blame for the incident, a feeling common to many victims of sexual harassment. A couple of months ago we had the case of sexual harassment at Ushahidi that shocked the tech ecosystem.
Even in the current age of societal development, sexual harassment continues to silently haunt our work environment. The sad thing is, many of those experiencing sexual harassment often suffer in silence allowing this predator to grow and take advantage of so many more people.
How to spot it
Sexual harassment can be defined as the unwelcomed and unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or offensive environment. It can also be seen as a form of violence against women (and men, who can also be sexually harassed) and as discriminatory treatment.
One of the keywords to notice is that it has to ‘forced’ or ‘unwelcomed’. This covers issues such as inappropriate physical touch, sharing inappropriate video or photo media, sharing unwanted sexual jokes, making inappropriate gestures to sending unwanted suggestive letters or emails to an individual. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, the allegations spanned over decades which was a clear indication of how many suffered in silence in fear, blaming themselves for the incidence. Many victims rarely come out to share the experience right after the incidence has happened.
Yolanda Moses, a trainer for preventing sexual harassment stated that most people especially women often blame themselves for sexual harassment due to popular cultural beliefs. These include the idea that only women who dress a certain way or speak a certain way experience sexual harassment. Therefore, most victims convince themselves it is their fault making it that much harder to talk about the issue. Others may choose to stay silent for fear of losing their jobs especially when the perpetrator is a high-ranking individual in society or the workplace. Questions such as ‘who would believe me?’ often run through these victims’ mind. There is also an aspect of embarrassment or fear that your fellow colleagues may stigmatize you or shun you after you report the incidence.
How to respond to it
Beth Brascugli De Lima, a human resources consultant and founder of HRM Consulting stated that one of the biggest issues in sexual harassment is that most people are aware of what they have experienced but they do not what do once they have experienced it. One thing to note is that the law is on your side. There are constitutional and institutional laws set in place to protect you from such occurrences.
The first thing to do is speak up about it. If you feel a co-worker or a boss is behaving in an unwelcomed manner, politely let them know that they have crossed a line. There is a possibility that the person meant no harm and may have thought it to be a joke or otherwise. Sometimes it is advisable to have it in form of writing just in case it escalates. If the issue persists even after warning, you can report the matter.
So, who do you go to especially when the perpetrator is your boss? In this case, it is advisable to report it to the Human Resources Department. Human Resource officers and managers are required to remain impartial and investigate the matter independently and without bias especially if the case involves senior management. In the case that you do not have a human resource department, one is advised to talk to whomever they are most comfortable with as long as the person is designated to take further action. If you are displeased with the company investigations or you feel that the right steps were not taken to make you feel safe, there is the option of seeking outside counsel by consulting with a lawyer.
Institutions should ensure that they hold sexual harassment seminars, so individuals may know their basic rights, how to act, spot and respond to it in the workplace. Areas such as these should have clear-cut guidelines on how to deal with such issues. Some companies include the ‘no fraternization’ policy and any employees who get involved are required to sign a legally binding contract that states that they are in the relationship of their own free will. If you are a victim, do not allow someone to thwart your efforts in the workplace by making you uncomfortable in any way.
There is still a lot to be done in ensuring the safety of employees in terms of sexual harassment. The challenge of the workplace is that reporting sexual harassment can make the victim be made to look like they are the bad person. This has made many women (and men) not speak out when they are harassed. Companies have to ensure that they are impartial when such cases are presented and be careful not to pick a side.