How to deal with workplace sexual harassment â€“ it's not just a Weinstein or Hollywood problem
Not just in the movies
In what has been dubbed as one of the biggest sex scandals in Hollywood, Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, has been accused by more than two dozen women including household names like Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cara Delevinge of sexual misconduct. Most of accounts of these actresses are similar. They alleged that Weinstein had led them to a private room where he made indecent proposals or sexually abused them.
Weinstein reportedly preyed on young, aspiring actresses and promised them fame and opportunities in exchange for sexual favours. In a Facebook post, local actress and Tanglin star, Caitanya Tan, recalled her encounter with the 65-year-old producer: “When he (Weinstein) found out I was an actress, he asked me to read a script…in his hotel room”. When the actress declined his offer, Weinstein proceeded to say, “do you know who I am? I could make you very famous”.
It is worth mentioning that while high profile Hollywood sex scandals like this one make headlines, no one is immune to workplace sexual harassment. Workplace sexual harassment doesn’t just happen to starlets in Tinseltown, it can happen to anyone and in any industry. A 2008 survey by AWARE found that 54 per cent of the respondents indicated that they have experienced sexual harassment at the workplace.
Scroll through the gallery to see how you can protect yourself from sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment isn’t necessarily just physical. Lewd and crude jokes of sexual nature and suggestive comments are also forms of sexual harassment. When the sexual harassment is not physical, victims can get legal recourse under the Protection from Harassment Act which prescribes the offence of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress. When there is physical contact, the offence would come under the Penal code. It is important to know your rights and what you should or should not stand for. If you suspect that you are being sexually harassed, your first point of reference should be your company handbook. Consult your company handbook and see if there are any policies in place that protect women. Before you file a harassment claim with the Human Resource (HR) department, make sure you understand the company policies and procedures for handling such claim.
As far as possible, try to limit contact with the offending party. If that is not possible, be direct and firm with your perpetuator. Make it known to the perpetrator that he has crossed the line. If you are not comfortable talking face to face with the perpetuator, send a text or an email. You can use this email or text as well as the perpetrator’s reply as evidence to back up your claims.
Some women choose to stay mum because they are afraid of subjecting themselves to humiliation and emotional trauma but sexual harassment isn’t something that one should go through alone. If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, talk to your loved ones about the incident. While they might not be present to witness the scene, they can not only provide you with emotional support but also support your case as witnesses.
If possible, collect concrete evidence of the harassment. It could be written evidence, for instance, a chat log or text or a witness. That said, not all of your colleagues might be willing to testify for you because they might be afraid that doing so would set them back professionally. If you are alone with the perpetuator in the office, it is a good idea to have a recording device with you or use the recorder app in your mobile if things go south. While investigations are taking place, it is advisable to document your own work just in case your harasser questions your ability to justify his conduct.
Do not hesitate to lodge a police report or seek civil remedies from the State Courts against the offender. You can also apply for a Protection Order (PO) and an Expedited Protection Order (EPO). Additionally, if you have the means, you can also consider engaging a lawyer.
Even though sexual harassment is a taboo topic that isn’t talked about much, it should be recognised that it happens in every industry. If you have experienced or are experiencing unwelcomed sexual behaviour, don’t just sweep the issue under the carpet and suffer in silence. It is not uncommon for women to grit their teeth and move forward in fear that they would lose their job or chance of promotion. While it shouldn’t be the case where a harasser gets you out of a job before you are ready with his advances, don’t feel like you should stay put at your current job either if your company won’t do anything to safeguard your well-being. Remember, if you don’t speak out, there will be other victims who would fall prey to such abuse and this might stroke the ego of the perpetuator and exacerbate such behaviour. Speak up and speak louder to end this vicious cycle.