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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Sexual Harassment

Amentor turns predator as he flatters a young girl and when she doesn't respond, resorts to threats. Another man excuses his colleague's misconduct to a superior saying, "He has a mental problem. He'll get over it." A woman left her first job as she couldn't deal with her boss' overbearing familiarity and constant improper suggestions. What bothers her is that when she mentioned the harassment to a superior, he laughed it off, saying, "C'mon, he was just paying you a compliment!" A study by the National Labour Institute recorded 5,671 reported cases of sexual harassment at the workplace in 1996, which grew to 10,950 in 2007 — a growth of 93 per cent. However, this is only a tip of the iceberg as thousands of cases go unreported, say experts. A proposition need not always be outright and can be as insidious as a hug or a remark. Says psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria, "Many times women feel an initial shock. They ask themselves if it really happened or if they imagined it. They wonder if they gave out those signals and don't know how to react. Do I slap him, gently push him away, is it big enough to report?" There's no easy way out. Sexual harassment at the workplace is common, but it's also often a company's best kept secret. A thin line divides casual flirtation from sexual harassment. During the Penguin episode, a former employee of a publishing house wrote of the casual atmosphere that prevailed in the almost all-women office, "I flirted back when he'd flirt, and I'm ashamed. But I blame him. I blame the way he manipulated us into thinking it was all part of the job, the 'culture' of the office. We were often told to 'entertain' people at our parties, like we were geisha. Dress sexy, be the first ones on the dance floor, get drinks." A colleague may 'accidentally' brush his hand past your breast, leaving you to wonder if it was deliberate. A boss may pursue you by praising your work, and as the familiarity grows over phone calls and dinners, spring the 'indecent' proposal at you. You may also see a colleague being plied with trips and plum projects because the boss has more than a professional interest in her. A spurned colleague may spread rumours that you slept with him, causing you to lose your sleep, self-confidence, and consider quitting the company. Is this cause to complain? Yes, say experts, as any unwelcome attention that affects your career is worth raising a red flag over! Says Julie Thekkudan of the NGO PRIA, "Often, men can believe that if you are game for a party, you are game for anything." 
According to the Supreme Court, all offices are mandated to constitute a committee to prevent and redress such cases. However, as lawyer Flavia Agnes points out, "Most wait for a case to occur before they constitute one." During the enquiry, the victim can ask for the person harassing them to be transferred. Unless a criminal case for eveteasing has been filed, the consequences are usually in the form of a reprimand, demotion, suspension, dismissal or being asked to tender an apology, explains Kirti Singh, legal convenor of the AIDWA and a women's rights lawyer.
If you're uncomfortable about someone's touch, keep a safe distance. If it continues, try confronting the person tactfully and maturely so that he doesn't retaliate. If that doesn't work, approach the HR. Keep sms-es and notes of offensive encounters as evidence of the harassment. Also, carry all letters of commendation, awards, and anything that will corroborate your positive job performance.
In the US, courts frown upon any relationship with a subordinate because the balance of power is skewed. Says lawyer Devika Singh, "Companies in the US can't breathe without having the law against sexual harassment as part of HR; the law is all-pervasive. The Equal Opportunities Commission brings men and women under its purview, unlike in India, which is protectionist only towards women."
Ultimately, such incidents can be emotionally crippling. But, don't wait too long to take action! 
What is sexual harassment?
The Supreme Court Guidelines on Sexual Harassment, 13 August 1997 has defined sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexually determined behaviour" such as: Physical contact A demand or request for sexual favours Sexually coloured remarks Showing pornography Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature
Verbal :
Sexual or gender-based jokes or teasing or comments Comments about clothing, personal behaviour, or a person's body Requesting sexual favours Pressure for dates Graphic descriptions of pornography Obscene phone calls Spreading rumours about a person's personal or sex life Turning work discussions to sexual topics (using "puns")
Non - verbal :
Staring Sizing up a person's body (looking up and down) Derogatory gestures of a sexual nature Sexually suggestive looks Facial expressions of a sexual nature; winking, licking lips
Physical:
Unwelcome hugging, kissing Standing too close to or brushing up against another person, leaning over, invading a person's space Patting, stroking, grabbing or pinching Blocking someone's path with the purpose of making a sexual advance Stalking Actual or attempted sexual assault, or forced fondling
Visual:
Presence of posters, cartoons, drawings, calendars, pinups, pictures, computer programs of a sexual nature Notes or e-mail containing sexual comments Knick-knacks and other objects of a sexual nature.

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