Sexual harassment war: a ravenous canker

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Sexual harassment war: a ravenous canker
Edith AGBELI

Taniel was invited to the HR manager’s office, and the manager at her department was also in attendance. The HR manager had received a report from her boss about her physically attacking him. She was asked for her side of the story. “Today’s incident was the latest of many instances when he has sexually harassed me,” she spat out furiously.

Taniel mentioned that her boss sexually harassed her on several occasions, and she has had enough. The abuse had moved from playful touches that made her uncomfortable to him grabbing her buttocks – and worst of all, grabbing her in a corner and kissing her forcibly. She reacted by punching him in the face, thus he reported her.

News of this meeting spread like wildfire throughout the company – and it sparked a barrage of sexual harassment reports from multiple women against their bosses. This was too blatant for the HR manager to pretend to be oblivious of the fact that such things went on in the company. Taniel was let off without any punishment. One would have expected her boss to get some sort of query, but he was let off the hook.

Despite being illegal, costly and an affront to dignity, sexual harassment is pervasive and challenging to eliminate.

One of the hotbeds for sexual harassment is the workspace. The prevalence of sexual harassment there is shocking, and this is a gross understatement. Each and every day, HR managers are inundated with tonnes of reports from personnel about one inappropriate sexual gesture or another. Some or a few of the perpetrators don’t set out to harass anyone, but get overly familiar and cozy with colleagues and do certain things which may be unwelcome and inappropriate – and can be classified as sexual harassment. That said though, there are far more extreme instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. Quid pro quo harassment, catcalls, butt-slapping and making sexual jokes are all examples of misguided actions which make the workplace an uncomfortable place for a lot of employees.

The Labour Act defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome, offensive or importunate sexual advance or request for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature made by an employer or superior officer or a co-worker – whether male or female – that creates a hostile and offensive work environment.

Importantly, sexual harassment is not the same as a mutually-agreed flirtation or relationship. It is an action that is unwelcome, causes offence and distress, and can in some situations be physically and emotionally dangerous. The victim, especially if of a junior rank, can feel intimidated, uncomfortable, embarrassed and/or threatened.

Sexual harassment is inextricably linked with power, and often takes place in societies which treat women as sex objects and second-class citizens. A common example of this is when women are asked for sexual favours in return for being given a job, or a promotion or a raise. Another example is street harassment, which can range from cat-calls and whistling through to unwelcome and offensive language – and also sexual abuse and rape. Though not frequently reported, men also sometimes experience these advances.

Forms of SH include but are not limited to the below:

  • Telling sexual or dirty jokes
  • Displaying or distributing sexually explicit pictures
  • Letters, notes, emails, telephone calls or material of a sexual nature
  • ‘Rating’ people on their physical attributes
  • Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy or looks
  • Whistling or cat-calling
  • Sexually suggestive sounds or gestures; such as sucking noises, winks,or pelvic thrusts
  • Direct or indirect threats or bribes for unwanted sexual activity
  • Repeatedly asking a person out for dates, or to have sex
  • Name-calling, such as bitch, whore or slut
  • Staring in an offensive way (staring at a woman’s breasts or a man’s buttocks)
  • Unwanted questions about one’s sex life
  • Unwanted touching, hugging, kissing, fondling, brushing up against somebody
  • Sexual assault

Workplace harassment can result in substantial costs to companies, including legal costs if cases escalate beyond the workplace; costs related to employee turnover, and costs related to lower productivity from increased absences, lower motivation and commitment, and team disruption

There have been a number of efforts to curb this distasteful stream of abhorrent treatment to innocent victims, but they have ended up being hopeless attempts at beheading a beast with a billion heads. The world needs an intensive moral cleansing.

However, the ‘people-department’ in every company holds some responsibility for preventing sexual harassment. Keeping staff informed and putting in place systems that promptly deal with such issues ensures they can help everyone create a safer space for the entire company. It also helps them structure what kind of training is needed to prevent future cases, and how the complaint process and policy can be improved.

Involving your HR department in a sexual harassment allegation helps you swiftly handle collection of evidence, protection of the victim, and creates a strategy to prevent future cases.

The Author is a Risk assessment and cost reduction consultant, Accountant, relationship coach, writer

Tel. No: 0244998789

Email: [email protected]

 

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