When Women are Sexually harassed in the workplace

Faith was only 23 years when she was recruited to an engineering firm. She was among the only few women in her department. The leering didn’t bother her at first but then came the flirtatious comments during meetings then finally boundaries were broken. A senior male colleague groped her ass as she passed by. She felt helpless and humiliated, in a different setting she would have slapped or defended herself but this was not just anybody, but her immediate supervisor. 

What Faith went through is experienced by more employees than is reported. There are many sexual harassment cases that go unreported in the workplace between both genders, male and female.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can be demoralising in any form. It reduces one’s capacity to work freely and be productive. It could lead to absenteeism, poor morale, loss of focus and legal action. It’s the responsibility of any company to provide a safe working environment for its employees.  An environment that is safe from sexual harassment and discrimination of any type. Though companies all over the world have seen the importance of preventing sexual harassment this is still a prevailing problem in the workplace.

When do you consider it sexual harassment?

Kenya’s employment act of 2007 states that a worker is harassed sexually if the employer, its representative or coworker requests directly or indirectly for any form of sexual favour in order to get preferential treatment at the workplace or threatens detrimental treatment on present or future employment status of the worker. In simple terms, sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual advances that is offensive, humiliating and intimidating. It could be verbal, non-verbal, written, physical and nowadays online.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

  • Comments about someone’s appearance
  • Conversation, questions and stories about sex
  • Leering or staring
  • Stalking or following someone around
  • Rumours about someone’s sex life
  • Suggestive emails, texts or any other type of communication 
  • Sexual comments that are not necessarily sexual
  • Vulgar language, jokes about sex, innuendo, explicit music with sexual lyrics
  • Unwanted touching and physical contact
  • Display of pornographic and sexual materials
  • Sexual requests 
  • Threats based on the rejection of sexual advances
  • Rape or sexual assault

What steps do you take as a victim of sexual harassment at the workplace?

Ask the harasser to stop

You can do this in person, through writing or on the phone. Written is best as there’s physical proof in case it’s needed later. If in-person, go with a trusted coworker. Never approach the harasser alone, things could escalate.

Report to management

Luckily most companies these days have an anti-harassment policy with guidelines and procedures to report sexual harassment.

Report to the union

In the event you’re in a union it could be easier for you to talk to your union leader as they can represent your claims better to the management.

Keeps written records

Write down the dates, times, places, and what was said or done by the harasser. Also, write down what you did, said and if there were any witnesses. Don’t fail to note down meetings with your supervisor or HR on the matter. These notes could be used during an investigation.

Cooperate during investigation

It may be hard to talk about the incidents with other people but you need to cooperate in order for justice to take place. Keeping it to yourself may lead to another coworker experiencing the same.

Take legal action

In cases such as sexual assault or rape report immediately to legal authorities. Here it’s beyond the company and the harasser needs to answer for their actions. You might also want to sue the company if no action was taken after reporting.

Get out

Some situations may be more toxic than you can handle. You can start looking for another job as you plan your exit strategy.

Sources: Equal Rights, The Muse, Legal Voice, National Partnership, Forbes

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