#MeToo – What Exactly Is Sexual Harassment At The Workplace?

According to Wikipedia “Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature and the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment includes a range of actions from mild transgressions to sexual abuse or assault. A harasser may be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a client or customer. Harassers or victims may be of any gender.”

“In most modern legal contexts, sexual harassment is illegal. Laws surrounding sexual harassment generally do not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or minor isolated incidents. That is due to the fact that they do not impose a “general civility code”. In the workplace, harassment may be considered illegal when it is frequent or severe thereby creating a hostile or offensive work environment. Or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim’s demotion, firing or quitting). The legal and social understanding of sexual harassment, however, varies by culture.”

However, it’s hard to stick to one single definition when it comes to an issue as dire as sexual harassment. Not paying attention to a victim’s story, or not taking any action against the perpetrator, just because what happened to them doesn’t fit the definition of sexual harassment is clearly wrong.

Sexual harassment may occur in a variety of circumstances. It can occur in workplaces as varied as factories, school, college, acting, and the music business. Often, the perpetrator is in a position of power or authority over the victim. This may be due to differences in age, or social, political, educational or employment relationships. They can also be expecting to receive such power or authority in form of promotion.

#MeToo - What Exactly Is Sexual Harassment At The Workplace
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Forms of harassment relationships include:

  • The perpetrator can be anyone, such as a client, a co-worker, a parent or legal guardian, relative, a teacher or professor, a student, a friend, or a stranger.
  • The place of harassment occurrence may vary from different schools, workplace and other.
  • There may or may not be other witnesses or attendances.
  • The perpetrator may be completely unaware that his or her behavior is offensive or constitutes sexual harassment. The perpetrator may be completely unaware that his or her actions could be unlawful.
  • The incident can take place in situations in which the harassed person may not be aware of or understand what is happening.
  • The incident may be a one-time occurrence but more often the incident repeats.
  • Adverse effects on the target are common in the form of stress, social withdrawal, sleep, eating difficulties, and overall health impairment.
  • The victim and perpetrator can be any gender.
  • The perpetrator does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The incident can result from a situation in which the perpetrator thinks they are making themselves clear, but is not understood the way they intended. The misunderstanding can either be reasonable or unreasonable. An example of unreasonable is when a woman holds a certain stereotypical view of a man such that she did not understand the man’s explicit message to stop.

With the advent of the internet, social interactions, including sexual harassment, increasingly occur online. 25% of women and 13% of men between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment while online. This is according to the 2014 PEW research statistics on online harassment.

Sexual harassment in India is termed “Eve teasing”. It is described as unwelcome sexual gesture or behaviour whether directly or indirectly as sexually coloured remarks; physical contact and advances; showing pornography; a demand or request for sexual favours; any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature or passing sexually offensive and unacceptable remarks. The critical factor is the unwelcomeness of the behaviour, thereby making the impact of such actions on the recipient more relevant rather than intent of the perpetrator. According to the Indian constitution, sexual harassment infringes the fundamental right of a woman to gender equality under Article 14 and her right to life and live with dignity under Article 21.

With the rise of the #MeToo Movement in India, more and more women are speaking up about the harassment that they have faced in the past or still continue to face. In most cases, it is at the hands of their employers or anyone senior to them at the workplace. It is not for us to ask “Why didn’t these women speak up earlier?” The victims are usually threatened, they know that speaking up might cost them their job.

Something that needs to be highlighted though, is that it’s not always necessary that women are the victims and men, the perpetrators. As mentioned in the points above, the victim and perpetrator can be any gender and the perpetrator does not have to be of the opposite sex. Also, listening to a woman’s story and carrying out investigation is important.

But that doesn’t mean that we should immediately label the alleged perpetrator as a criminal just because he’s a man. It is important to determine how much truth there is to the accusation. Because there have been cases where women have falsely accused men just to defame them, for publicity or for other (commonly monetary) benefits. Also, when a man accuses a woman of sexual harassment, he is usually ridiculed and his story is not even taken seriously, let alone investigated into. This situation needs to change immediately.

Read More: How MEN CAN Protect THEMSELVES From FALSE Rape Allegations

We shouldn’t be needing a movement like #MeToo to gain momentum in order for victims to speak against their harassers. However, this is the sad reality because of the victim blaming culture that is prevalent in our country. Let’s hope that this situation changes, and that we can have a much more secure environment at the workplace. Also, the harassers need to be brought to justice, regardless of their stature, popularity and fan-following.

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