Sexual harassment at the workplace is a reality that a large percentage of working women have to deal with—in ways both overt and covert. Men abusing their power and refusing to use their judgement about how to talk to women, and what to talk to women about, continue to be most common. Aruna Rathod urges you to be aware of your rights and act accordingly.

For 25-year-old Srishti Singh (name changed), WhatsApp messages from her boss at midnight checking on her well-being was only the beginning of the misery she would witness in the days to come. The messages soon graduated to invitation for post-work drinks and touching her at the slightest pretext on the excuse of being ‘friendly’. A promising young journalist, at the start of her career, Srishti bore all of it with a straight face, politely declining his advances, until she could take it no longer, escalating the matter to HR thereafter. Soon after, she realised her boss’ behaviour had become worse (he was picking on her for no fault of her and subjecting her to unnecessary bullying). To add insult to injury, she suddenly found herself becoming the centre of office gossip, getting ‘called’ out for her ‘available’ status often. Unable to continue further, Srishti finally put in her papers and left, while her predator continued in his position of power. Srishti now works with a reputed television channel, and while snide remarks from male colleagues are common, she is thankful she does not have a pervert of a boss to deal with any more.
Srishti’s case is not an isolated one. Women often bear the brunt of sexual harassment by either giving in or just leaving their job, both of which have negative outcomes. “Women feel immense pressure to resign or leave a project midway when faced with this situation. Besides psychological effects such as disturbed sleep, long-term depression, social isolation, a phobia of similar situations and trust issues, women face a loss of income and ostracism too,” says Hvovi Bhagwagar, Clinical Psychologist and Trauma Therapist.

What is workplace sexual harassment?

Men abusing their power and position are very common. What is worse is these men are often aided by a coterie of men and women, who pamper the ways of their male boss/colleague, as ‘taken-for-granted’ behaviour, sugar coating lewd jokes, double-meaning sentences and sexual advances as ‘friendly’ behaviour.
The one thing that’s clear from the stories that have emerged from the ongoing #MeToo movement is that the men who behave inappropriately usually do it at places where they exercise a degree of control. More incidents, for example, have been reported from cabins and cubicles of offices, cars, rather than public spaces such as a club or gym, all of which point to a deliberate exercise by predators to harass women on territories where they, the predators clearly have the upper hand.
Explaining what constitutes sexual harassment, Bhagwagar, elaborates, “Offering ‘benefits’ against a sexual favour, unwanted sexual advances, threatening/blackmailing if the person says ‘no’, derogatory comments, objectifying the person, uncomfortable body positioning, all qualify as sexual harassment.” Remember, it’s not just your boss who can harass you; clients, colleagues and juniors can sexually harass
you too.

Feel empowered, take action

The first step is to firmly state your displeasure to the offender. If he persists, start taking action.
l “Report the incident to a senior manager or the Human Resources Department of the organisation. As per law of 2013, organisations with a minimum of 10 employees have to appoint an ICC (internal complaints committee) with a Presiding Officer at a senior level from the organisation along with experts from the legal field and a female social worker,” Bhagwagar advises. Some organisations also have anonymous call lines that record the calls and take up the matter discreetly with the accused.
l If you are being harassed, start gathering proof—emails, screenshots of messages and retaining bills in case you meet in a restaurant or cafe are important.
l In most cases, women do not report these incidents because they feel no one will believe them, coupled with the fear that there will be a negative impact on their employment record, promotions etc. At the same time, they fear social rejection too.

Rajendra .

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Rajendra .

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