There is never a shortage of lewd comments which are often aimed at women at work, a place meant to allow one to develop their career and earn a living. Wow, seems some women can never catch a break. If you can relate, some women get sexually harassed from their homes, on transit to work and even at work. The intensity and magnitude of the impact is only known to the victim. Isn’t it sad and disheartening that generally more than half of female employees of all ages have been victims of some form of pestering at different times in their careers. The abuse ranges from dirty jokes to unsolicited advances, groping and outright demands for sexually related favours. I can almost say with certainty that most women have encountered some degree of sexual harassment at work or work related events where colleagues would pass uninvited sexually inclined comments.
Prevalence of sexual harassment is sometimes correlated with posturing of pseudo power exerted on some women to cow and abuse them sexually at work. It could be a Director with Personal Assistant; Personal Trainer with client; Arm Officers with women colleagues of the same force; Movie director with an actress; TV producer and new anchor or supervisor with subordinate. Anyone within the rank of a work place can assume the role of a harasser. Sexual harassment at work should never be trivialised as it can alienate you, making it difficult for you to exude any form of confidence and self-esteem. It certainly erodes your abilities to focus and function freely, effectively stopping you from working to the best of your abilities. Noone should be subjected to it.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell if you are being harassed sexually. If you are suspecting that you are being sexually harassed but your are not sure, here are some of the tell-tell signs to look out for.
- Any form of sexual ‘jokes’ or comments directed to you despite indicating that they make you feel uncomfortable
- When bosses offer you Promotion or benefits tied up to sexual favours
- You are always receiving a barrage of emails with inappropriate sexual content or pestered to take on a date when you have clearly stated you are not interested
- When co-worker makes it a habit to stand behind you and invade your space trying to offer you hugs, touch you know matter how light, know that you are being preyed on
- If you hear any form of noises, whistling or gesturing that is sexually motivated and aimed at you
- You are manipulated into believing that, you want what they do
- They continue buying you gifts to advance their sexual engagement with you
- A colleague drops sexual innuendos each time you are in the middle of a work conversation.
The list of the likely signs is not exhaustive. Just realise as Katie Lee Gifford put it “sexual harassment is complex, subtle, and highly subjective”.
What would you do when you are going by your business and all of a sudden a stranger gropes you? Do you just smile, do you confront them, do you scream or call for help? Your impulses respond to the threat accordingly and based on where you are domiciled you dial emergency numbers to report the abuse. On the contrary, strangely you freeze out and fail to report work place sexual abuse either internally or to officials because you are too scared to say what actually happened choosing to feel humiliated. When a stranger abuses you, you hardly think if they could be a CEO, a judge, politician, a billionaire; you just care less about their status than you do about getting them reigned in. When it comes to your work mates, why should hesitate to make a report? Just because someone has influence over your job doesn’t mean they can abuse and imprison you. How can you stop sexual harassment as you cant be yoked to it as if it’s the price for a paycheck?
- Don’t be intimidated by your perpetrators or be timid. You are never to blame. Expect that when you call out a perpetrator they scurry behind the finger and say it was just banter, a joke or tease. In the worst case when caught up, perpetrators can at times turn on you leaving you looking unbelievable and blamed for trying to destabilise a traditionally functional work environment. Be steadfast and if you can try and report early on, remember harassers choose isolated times and environments when they are hardly any witness so to avoid being doubted act on it quicker.
- To build a credible case, keep a record of the untowardness, taking note of where , when and probably the time the harassment occurred. If you can, where your emotions allow photographic evidence makes it easier to reign them
- Why not carry out a bit of research before you apply or accept a job offer. There are sexual harassment hotspot sectors or even companies known to media, family or friends where women are likely to be harassed. Ensure you carry out in investigation if such places have grievance procedures for previous sexual harassment cases before you take on a job
- Don’t be fooled or sent into guilty mode, sexual harassment can never constitute friendship, banter or fun but should be taken for what it is, abuse of power and position at the work place. If you ever felt colleagues are directing comments about your appearance, body or clothes, dishing out comments about your sexlife, or making sexual demands, ever staring, or physically touching, pinching, hugging, caressing, kissing, just know the beast is in the house. When you experience, call it out, that is the only way we can deal with this beast. The more other women know about your experience the more you can put the harassers to shame. If you can’t do it for you, do it for your girlfriends, the next woman, the generations of girls to come. As Michelle Obama says “as women we must stand up for ourselves, for each other, for justice, for all”
- Contain any form of harassment in its bud making it explicitly crystal clear that they unsolicited actions or behaviour is unwelcome. A verbal warming might suffice at times but be sure enough to send them an email or letter so they know, they never had the right to cross your boundary. Your domain remains a fortress.
- Ladies it also helps to look out for one another another. If you feel like your colleague is being harassed, share knowledge and point them on where and how they can report.
You might have worked for the business for some time that it feels like your second home but as less strange as your colleagues are they too should be treated as complete strangers when it comes to your boundaries. There is hardly anything family about a workmate. The same day when a workmate fails to realise that a workplace is a different environment that should precondition and inform their behaviour, perhaps different from the environment at their favourite pub or club where wanton behaviour is accommodated, is the same day they qualify to be strangers. You see, a work place demands cordial relations, mutual respect and team work.
It takes great leaders and good companies to ensure that their business take full responsibility and create infrastructure and environment where all employees including women feel safe. In this modern day where mindsets have been nurtured and cultivated through rigorous natural and sometimes forced civilisation processes, you would think that sexual harassment should be a thing of the past. As undermining, and humiliating as it is, only savages can find this non-degrading and take it as a charming way to lure a woman. In the first instance it’s a work place, not a hook up place, yes people at the same work place can date or fall in love but am sure they expect any to be partners to approach them with utmost respect and dignity. As women we should all stand together, support one another and send a unified message to say enough is enough. Angelina Jolie puts it well when she says ‘We must send a message across the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual harrassment– the shame is on the aggressor’
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