WHAT MAY BE CONSIDERED SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Studies have shown that 55% of women in the European Union have been sexually harassed. Moreover, some studies suggest that approximately 87 to 94% of employees who experienced sexual harassment at work have never reported it.
"Sexual harassment shall mean verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature whose intention or consequence is or may be a violation of person’s dignity and which creates an intimidating, degrading, disrespectful, hostile or offensive environment."
The Anti-Discrimination Act of the Slovak Republic: § 2a (5)
Sexual harassment is not about sexual acts, sexual desire, or an effort to start a relationship. In reality, it is an abuse or an attempt to gain power and authority over a person and often even about an open expression of aggression.
Whistling, inappropriate commenting on ones looks or unpleasant touching have no place in an honest relationship. In cases of sexual harassment, sexuality is solely a tool of expressing power and control.
Sexual harassment may happen anywhere – at work, at school, in university, on the street, in a shop, a club, on public transport, at an airport, or even at home.
WHERE IS THE LINE BETWEEN FLIRTING AND HARASSMENT?
If the sexual hints, propositions, and touches start to be unpleasant to any person involved, it is not flirting but definitely sexual harassment.
There are various relationships in various working environments. Somewhere, the relations are purely formal, elsewhere utterly friendly. One way or the other, nobody should behave in a way that makes anyone on the team uncomfortable.
A typical example of harassment is when a male colleague deliberately abuses the familiar mood at the office. He touches his female colleague, disrupts her personal space, asks about her sexual life and privacy. After entering the office, he scans her, throws in some comment about her breasts or her bottom in her new dress. If the woman objects to him, his reaction is that she “doesn’t understand jokes” or “doesn’t know how to have fun”.
From a young age, girls are taught that it is their duty to be decent and nice. To nicely nod, smile, and politely, repeatedly refuse. Even if the never-ending attempts to make contact make them uncomfortable. Objections are often seen as “overreactions” or as “incomprehension of fun”.
Boys are told that when a girl says no, they should not give up. This is because the girls want the boys to conquer them. It was believed that the "right men" would simply take what they wanted. However, this contributes to an environment in which respect for the other sex is lacking and sexual coercion and harassment are quietly tolerated.
FORMS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
A/ Quid pro Quo – “something for something
Susan is struggling with her chemistry schoolwork. Her teacher calls her to his office and offers extra lessons. He starts to give her sexual propositions while ensuring her he only wants to give her a good grade. The teacher abuses his authority by making these propositions while deciding about her grades.
Sexual harassment often happens without witnesses. Offenders act behind closed doors where they, tete-a-tete, form a noticeably clear demand about what needs to be done to improve grades, get a promotion, a pay rise or even keep a job.
B/ Creating an offensive environment
Jane works as an administrative assistant at a garage. The mechanics often use rough language and tell sexist jokes with her present. Moreover, the unisex toilet they all use is full of posters with naked women which offends Jane. When she mentioned these problems to the owner of the company, she was told that the men are “only joking” and that she is “oversensitive” and “ruining their fun”. She remains exposed to insulting public comments, sexual propositions, and sexually motivated materials.
In reality, an offensive and hostile environment is created through these methods. Working in such an environment is considered to be sexual harassment.
CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
LET'S SAY NO!
A woman’s reaction to sexual harassment depends on a particular situation, their relationship with the harasser, and the environment where the harassment happens. In principle, it is important that she makes it known, verbally or otherwise, that she does not want such behaviour to take place. However, it is mostly up to men to be aware of their behaviour and prevent these situations from happening to avoid harassment, whatever its form.
Women are very often legitimately afraid to speak up, especially if this would endanger their safety or if sexual harassment comes from a position of power, such as a teacher, professor, or boss. They are rightfully worried that they will get a worse grade, not pass a class, or lose their job or a promotion. Moreover, the harassment may also intensify and get worse. In cases like these, it remains crucial that witnesses do not remain indifferent, but take a stand and show that such a behaviour is unacceptable.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Tell the person who harasses you to stop. The best way is using a letter, e-mail, or a message. Write them what is insulting about their behaviour and save a copy of this message.
Make a record of the harassment. Write down every detail about every single incident including the date and time. Document what happened and focus on all insults and your reactions to them. Write down the names of witnesses too.
Take screenshots of all your sent and delivered e-mails with everyone involved in the conversation. This information may be important when an outside party reviews the conduct, such as at trial.
File a complaint at the highest possible level. Many universities and companies have internal procedures for reporting sexual harassment. And if they do not, you need to address the highest possible authority, such as the school director, dean’s office, or rectorate.