“Would you like to discuss this privately, over dinner later tonight?”
“Why're you standing so far away? Come closer. I don’t bite; I’m more of a kisser.”
“Don’t call me ‘sir’! We are friends, aren’t we? Where do you live? I might drop in for a chat at night.”
“You look so juicy that I could eat you.”
Sounds familiar? Unfortunately, you’re not alone.
Sexual harassment is a disease which has been crippling the progress of humankind for ages. Wherever you go, whatever you wear, there’s surely a sleazy comment waiting to be passed and the worst part is that we have started anticipating them and shaping our lives accordingly. One can even say that we’ve normalised sexual harassment in our society.
However, this should not be the case anywhere and at any time, and especially, not in a professional environment. The workplace should be a safe and trouble-free area, where one can be productive and can exercise one’s potential to the fullest; not one where one has to constantly be on the lookout for creeps and weirdos.
Any unwelcome gesture of sexual nature can be termed as sexual harassment. It includes in its purview any uninvited lewd or sexually suggestive behaviour of physical, verbal and cyber nature, sexually inappropriate requests and comments, and showing sexually explicit materials without consent. Stalking and voyeurism are also considered as sexual harassment.
What should you do if you have been or are being sexually harassed?
We encounter creeps and perverts without fail, who try to disturb us with their leering comments and inappropriate gestures. So, how do you react in such horrible situations? Just let the perverts do what they want and hope that it ends quickly? Absolutely not.
Stand your ground and speak out against sexual harassment. Don't be a passive and submissive victim. Directly convey to the perpetrator that his or her advances are unwanted and unwelcome, and tell them to stop, in no uncertain words. If they still continue, threaten them with legal ramifications, as you're well within your rights to file a complaint.
Time is of essence in these cases, as sometimes, there is a fixed period ranging from 3 to 6 months (from the date of the incident), within which you can file a formal complaint. This is a matter of extreme urgency, so don’t delay lodging a complaint, because you fear society’s censure.
Always report instances of sexual harassment to your supervisors and if they are involved in it, report it to their superiors. You can also approach the human resources department to lodge a complaint.
The Vishakha guidelines stipulate that an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) should be present in every office in India to investigate complaints of sexual abuse. The Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development has also launched an online platform called SHe-Box (Sexual Harassment Electronic Box) for filing complaints on issues of sexual harassment in the workplace, open to both public-sector and private-sector employees. It conveys the complaint to the ICC of the concerned company and the ensuing investigation will be actively monitored by the Ministry.
Don't bottle yourself up. Talk to your friends and co-workers and ask them whether they have faced similar issues in the workplace and if they came from the same source. If you have strong support from your co-workers, the management is bound to act on your complaint.
The world is a nasty place, as we all know, and people are, more often than not, guided by prejudice and irrationality. Malicious gossip will arise, and you'll receive stares and look-downs from various 'holier-than-thou' people. Don't let it get to you. Retaliation can go to extreme lengths and you might even be dismissed from your job, without notice. If such a thing happens, take legal counsel and check whether you can file a wrongful termination suit against the company.
This is not a tip, but a last-resort measure, only to be taken if nothing else works out. This advice may sound disheartening and defeatist but a hostile work environment is not worth disturbing the peace of your mind. Do not leave at once, follow the correct procedures and make sure that your employer cannot sue you for violating your contract’s clauses. Leave with your dignity intact; and remember, the law is on your side, so you don’t have to be afraid of anything.
Sexual harassment is a widespread phenomenon in our country but only a minor fraction of these cases are reported because of the fear of public humiliation and ostracism. However, this only serves to further perpetuate this vile phenomenon. It’s time we stop passively supporting this and start actively preventing it. This debate needs to spread and potential-perpetrators must be educated about consent.