What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. Men and women can be victims and perpetrators. It is probably sexual harassment if you feel uncomfortable or threatened.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature having the effect of verbal, non-verbal visual, psychological or physical harassment. Women are sexually harassed in the streets, in public transport, and, very often, at the workplace.

Sexual harassment creates an offensive, intimidating or hostile learning, working or living environment. Both men and women are victims and perpetrators. Sexual harassment can occur between members of the opposite gender or the same gender. It can occur between people of different status or people of the same status.

The basic rule is: It is probably sexual harassment if the person feels uncomfortable or threatened. It does not matter what the harasser intended!

Types of Sexual Harassment

Effects of Sexual Harassment on the Victim

Sexual Harassment Q & A

Q: What can I do if I am dismissed by my company for complaining about sexual harassment?
A: If you are dismissed because you voiced objections against the harassment, you should write to go to the Industrial Relations Department and file a complaint within 60 days. We encourage victims of sexual harassment to speak up, so that with enough support and evidence, the government will put into place effective laws and policies against such harassment.

Q: What about if I have to resign because the situation has become very bad?
A: If you resign because the situation got so bad, this is called “constructive dismissal” and you can take action for this as well, but you will need to be able to prove that you have tried various avenues to get the harassment to stop. State the reason in your resignation letter.

Go to the Industrial Relations Department in your state and file a complaint within 60 days. The IR Department will mediate between you and your employer – this is where all documentation and proof that you have kept (like medical chits, letters from a counsellor, memos to your employer, your resignation letter stating that you left because of the harassment) will be very important. If a settlement cannot be reached, the Ministry of Human Resource will can decide whether your case will be referred to the Industrial Court for settlement.

Q: If I lodge a police report, what laws could the police or prosecution use to charge the offender with in court?
A: Although there is no specific law on sexual harassment, there are several sections in the Penal Code (Criminal Law) which the police could use to cover situations of sexual harassment, such as:

  • Section 354: Assault or use of criminal force with intent to outrage modesty.
  • Section 377D: Outrages on decency.
  • Section 509: Words or gestures intended to insult the modesty of a person.

Lodge police reports so that the necessary investigation can be carried out. If you remain silent, you can’t put a stop to the harassment.

Q: Are women the only ones who get sexually harassed?
A : No but most cases involve men harassing women. Relatively few men get harassed. Occasionally, women also harass other women.

Q: How do you know if a sexual behaviour is “unwelcome”?
A: If you can sense that someone is feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed by what you do, then it is probably unwelcome behaviour. If the behaviour gets no encouragement, or if s/he begins to avoid you or becomes emotionally distressed, these are signs that the attention is unwelcome. The person does not need to state a clear “No”.

Q: Just one joke can’t be sexual harassment, can it?
A: While one joke alone may not be harassment, it could contribute to a “hostile environment”. In this situation, the question would be whether a “reasonable person” would find it offensive. In really serious cases, a single incident can create a “hostile environment” so offensive and intimidating that it interferes with a person’s ability to work or learn. For example, an employer suggesting to an employee that her/his position will be affected by whether s/he allows sexual advances.

Q: How can we stop sexual harassment?
A: You can stop sexual harassment in these ways:

  • Share this information with others.
  • Be supportive of people you know who are facing this problem. Encourage them to resist and take action.
  • If you observe an act of sexual harassment, be courageous enough to be a witness.
  • Don’t accept sexual harassment as “the way things are” or as a joking matter. Speak up and tell them to stop.
  • Support policies in your company and legislation seeking to prevent sexual harassment.

Q: Why do some people sexually harass others?
A: Most people who harass others do so in a conscious or unconscious way to express their dominance or power. Others harass their peers in an attempt to seek peer approval.

Check out useful resources you can use.

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