Friday, July 30, 2010

"What is Sexual Harassment? Learn How To Draw The Line" - Prof.M.S.Rao

“Sexual harassment is complex, subtle, and highly subjective.” - Kathie Lee Gifford

Currently the cases of sexual harassment are growing rapidly. The media is also getting aggressive by reporting such things often without any cross verification to hit the limelight at any cost for increasing their viewership. Sexual harassment has almost become quite common at the workplace. Let us find out what is and what constitutes sexual harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment?

According to the United Nations General Recommendation 19 to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women defines sexual harassment of women to include:

"Such unwelcome sexually determined behavior as physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable ground to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment." (References:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment)

The term sexual harassment has been coined by Dr. Mary Rowe in early 1970s. It has been existing since time immemorial but it has drawn attention recently as the women began working along with men.

Sexual harassment can happen between a man and a woman and between the same sexes. It is a form of abuse and bullying at the workplace where the superior seeks sexual favors for promoting her or giving her both financial and non-financial incentives. However, when a woman sleeps with a man willingly and subsequently if there is any rift in their relations she cannot claim that she was sexually harassed. The victim can be of any gender and the harasser can be of anyone who is a superior or a subordinate, or a colleague, or a client or a stranger.

Sometimes the harassers may not be completely aware of their behavior as an offensive or constitutes sexual harassment. That means, they are ignorant of their misbehavior. Sometimes, misunderstandings in communication might be treated as sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is cultural and contextual. What is treated as a good behavior might be treated as a bad behavior in other cultures. The term is cultural specific, situational specific and contextual.

Flirting vs. Sexual Harassment:

There is a thin line that separates sexual harassment from flirting. Don’t confuse being friendly or flirtiness as a welcome signal. Flirting is a natural process to be enjoyed with mutual consent but not at the cost of others. Flirting is fine as long as it is healthy, complementary and reciprocal. It should not be at the cost of others’ wishes or sentiments. Flirtation can sometimes boost one’s ego and rejuvenates the lost magic in relationships arising out of pulls and pressures in daily life.

Sexual Harassment Gestures:

Let us look at few gestures that can be treated as sexual harassment. They are:
unwanted physical touch, demonstrating pornography, talking about sex at the workplace, spreading rumors about the relations among the people at the workplace, making sexual advances, seeking for sexual favors, facial expression with sex appeal, unwelcome hugging, kissing, touching and commenting so on.

Body Language and Sexual Harassment:

Research reveals that women are smarter at getting at the vibes of the men than the other way round. They use less of oral language and more of body language to attract men. Woman sends specific signals to reveal her interest towards man. She giggles, laughs, twirls her hair, and maintains cheerful eye contact. This is an indication of her interest in man. However man responds mostly through oral language and preferably by praising her beauty. They are good at hidden data of communication such as recognizing the emotions, feelings and egos than that of men who are only strong at gauging both the verbal and non-verbal communication such as body language.

How To Identify?

At times, it is tough to draw the fine line between misbehavior and sexual harassment. Few women wear ‘provocative dressing’ to get noticed. And if any one questions her provocative dressing, she might get offended thus leveling charges of sexual harassment. Who is to be blamed in this regard? Is it the woman who tempts others with her provocative dressing to get noticed or the person who questions her dressing? Therefore, it is a complicated issue where people find it tough to draw the line. Besides, cultural factors play a crucial role to declare what is offensive, or defensive or proper.

Provocative dress is one of the causes for sexual harassment where others are tempted to tease. Let us look at few more causes for sexual harassment.


When both woman and man agree to have relationship it cannot be treated as a sexual harassment. Even courts cannot enter and interfere between consensual relationship. However, the problem arises when a woman complains against man. At times, organizational politics at the workplace may lead to such complaints. Therefore, the authorities have to find out how far the accusation is appropriate and the information is genuine. Whether there was a case of real sexual harassment or was it due to personal egos between two different genders has to be taken into account for coming to conclusion.

It is usual practice to blame the car driver for hitting the pedestrian although the mistake lies with the latter for crossing over the road unmindful of the approaching car and being negligent about the traffic signals. People express their sympathy to the injured person rather than the car driver. Similarly, when any complaint comes from a woman, men are usually targeted immediately. It is unfair to do so. The best thing is to keep gender issue aside and look at the complaints objectively without any gender bias.

In some cases, the woman who is incompetent may harbor jealousy against a colleague who is highly competent and may level the charges of sexual harassment. In such cases, there should not be any sympathy just because the complaint came from a woman.

Sometimes a wicked woman might use it as a weapon to settle her scores with her male colleague at the workplace.

Sometimes there are negative elements such as rumor-mongers who spread rumors to settle their scores with their colleagues due to professional jealousies.

When a woman complains of sexual harassment, it is essential to keep short messaging services through cell phones (smss), email or letter correspondence ready as evidence. The people who have been targeted must be ready with their credentials of commendation and awards to prove their point of good behavior.

Susan and Ron:

Let us take the examples of two employees in an organization. Susan and Ron were working in the same department. Susan was senior while Ron was junior in that organization although Ron was older to Susan in age. Susan did not appreciate the growing popularity of Ron and his superior performance. She harbored professional jealousy. Finally one day, she took Ron to a room and attacked him verbally within the four walls thus insulting his ego. Ron realized the insecure feelings of Susan and kept mum as he respected her as a good colleague. Was it not a sexual harassment by a woman on man? Therefore, sexual harassment is not by men on women alone but by women on men as well. A woman who is superior at the workplace and who is highly dominant might not appreciate her subordinate excelling professionally. In such a scenario she might hurt male ego that can also be treated as sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment Training:

As prevention is better than cure, it is essential to educate and train employees about the concept of sexual harassment and the dos and don’ts for ensuring healthy workplace environment. Therefore, it is essential for organizations to conduct sexual harassment workshops once in a while. .

Sexual harassment training helps organizations to check the menace. People will be made aware of what is flirting and harassing. At times, people don’t know the difference between the both and cross their lines leading to controversies. It also makes things clear what constitutes and falls under sexual harassment as people often don’t know the clear cut definition of sexual harassment. Sometimes men at the workplace might think that praising the beauty of a woman is a compliment. And the same may be viewed in a different context from the other side. Therefore, sexual harassment training helps educate the employees at the workplace to learn, appreciate and respect the values, cultures ethics and etiquette.

At times people are ignorant of their behavior. They don’t know what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Besides, the implications of sexual harassment must be made aware to victims, the harassers, and the organizations through proper training.

Tips to Tackle:

”Sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women.” - Phyllis Schlafly

· When you find that a woman or a man at the workplace is a troublemaker, stay away as far as possible. And also when you find that your colleague has professional jealousy and is playing politics, it is better to stay away in totality.
· When someone is approaching you often without any valid reasons with sexual behavior and tendencies, you need to safeguard yourself.
· Keep track with people who often criticize, complain and condemn others. Such people are dangerous elements at the workplace who disturb the healthy atmosphere at the workplace.
· When someone is touching you physically without any valid reason, or paying compliment inappropriately, or staring at you constantly, it is time to pick up the signals and guard yourself from such people.
· Be careful with wicked women at the workplace especially divorced who look for filling their emotional gaps and unfulfilled sexual desires. If the same is not fulfilled and not reciprocated appropriately, they can go to any extent to level charges against their male counterparts. At the same time, be careful with men who are highly aggressive and carry forward unreliable information and spread rumors at the workplace. These men promise more and deliver less.


”Sexual harassment law is very important. But I think it would be a mistake if the sexual harassment law movement is the only way in which feminism is known in the media.” - Judith Butler

No employer or superior should withhold professional opportunities of an employee just because the employee did not fall in line with the sexual advances or needs of the employer or superior.

There is a thin line between misbehavior and sexual harassment when something happens between a man and a woman. It depends on the relationship that exists between the man and the woman. If the woman likes the man she might treat it as misbehavior, if she dislikes the man she might call it as sexual harassment. Just because of one or two incidents a person can be dubbed as a harasser and the other person cannot be treated as a victim.

It is advisable to conduct sexual harassment workshops as people will be aware of what is what and what are the dos and don’ts at the workplace. Besides, it takes on the behavioral challenge, arming employees and leaders with the information they need to prevent sexual harassment and the tools that will help them to respond when incidents occur.

It is a fact that sexual harassment against women is on the rise. The organizations should take it seriously and design their policies and procedures accordingly to make the workplace climate healthy, peaceful and pleasant.

To conclude, it is essential to create a harassment-free, positive and respectful workplace for all employees for working in a healthy and peaceful professional ambience. It ultimately builds credibility and brand image for the organization paving the way for organizational excellence and effectiveness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why do we believe that the Sexual Harassment happens only for Women and not for Men?

And the situations at Workplace and other places are playing part only for women and not for Men.

Please include this as person and not only just for Men.

For everyone's knowledge:
In Domestic Harassment and Violence the number of Men suicides is 3 times that of Women in India - Does your thoughts change?