Sexual harassment at the workplace;Everything you need to know

Everyone is entitled to a safe working environment and putting up with sexual harassment at the workplace is highly discouraged. Sexual harassment at the workplace can be termed as any unwelcome and unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and another verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that creates a hostile and unmanageable or offensive work environment.

The victims of sexual harassment at work are not only limited to women. Men may also experience the unwelcome act in a variety of ways too including gender discrimination. In the workplace, sexual harassment may be perpetrated by males and females due to many factors. A work  environment filled with hostility causes decreased work performance as a result of intimidating, abusive or offensive actions

Even though men occasionally experience different forms of sexual harassment, women are much more likely to be the victims of sexual harassment because they are in positions of insecurity and vulnerability more often than men. Additionally, some women may lack self-confidence or have been socialized to suffer in silence. Unwanted sexual attention can happen anywhere inclusive of public and private spaces.

In order to grasp the reason women put up with the vast majority of sexual harassment, it is important to find out the underlying causes of this menace.

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Forms of sexual harassment at the workplace

Sexual harassment can be in a variety of forms. The unwanted act includes both physical violence, repeated verbal sexual comments, or unwelcome flirting. However, it is important to note that the insensitive act is not similar to a mutually-agreed flirtation or relationship. The harassment is very unwelcome, causes distress, and in most situations, it can be physically and emotionally draining. The victim often feels intimidated, uncomfortable, embarrassed, or threatened.

Look out for the following actions if you suspect that you may be experiencing sexual harassment while at work;

  • Request for sexual favors-A good example of this is when employees or jobseekers are asked for sexual favors in return for being given a job, or a promotion, or a raise. Direct or indirect threats or bribes for unwanted sexual activity forces a lot of women who are desperate for a better life, to unwillingly compromise to the sexual requests or quit seeking unemployment altogether to avoid being harassed by their oppressors.
  • Sexually natured communication-This includes unwanted Letters, notes, emails, telephone calls, or material of a sexual nature directed to you by your colleagues or boss. This form of harassment usually starts with innocent conversations that eventually lead to physical interactions.
  • Staring in an offensive way-This happens when your colleague or employer often stares at your body parts for long periods of time to a point of making you uncomfortable.
  • Making conditions of employment or advancement dependent on sexual favors, either explicitly or implicitly. The perpetrator gives you sexual ultimatums as a form of control.
  • Verbal harassment of a sexual nature, including “jokes” referring to sexual acts or sexual orientation.
  • Unwanted touching, hugging, kissing, fondling, brushing up against somebody. This may catch you unawares as it starts off as an “accidental” touch or physical contact with you.
  • Repeatedly asking for dates, or to have sex-Even if you decline he/she may insist on this for a long period of time.
  • Sexually suggestive sounds or gestures such as sucking noises, winks, or pelvic thrusts.
  • Stalking a person. They may follow you around even to the washroom or on your way home.
  • Undeserved favors from your boss or colleagues. You are constantly given what you didn’t ask for plus unwanted sexual attention.
  • Direct or indirect request by an employer for sexual favors.

Why do harassment victims keep silent?

Fear of embarrassment

Our very cultured society that has hardened the harassment victims to believe they cannot be vulnerable and speak out. One would rather suffer in silence than go through the “humiliation” associated with speaking out or seeking assistance. The eventual result of this is depression, anger, and an overwhelming feeling of frustration. Especially for men, they would rather suffer internally in silence than position themselves anything less than a vulnerable man. There are also some victims who don’t speak out of fear that nobody will believe their story.

Ignorance to understand the forms of sexual harassment

In as many examples of sexual harassment are clear, many employees are unaware that they are receiving unwanted sexual attention. For instance, forms like undeserved favors from colleagues or an employer may seem very innocent but it can make an unsuspecting victim feel indebted to the favors and later give in to the sexual requests from their co-workers or boss. Learning about the different forms of sexual harassment at the workplace helps an individual to be a step ahead and make informed decisions on whether the work environment is conducive or not.

Probability of getting fired or unemployment

Thousands of innocent employees, unfortunately, face the risk of getting laid-off or unemployed if they stand firm in their decisions of not practicing transaction sexual favors at the workplace. Compliance with the requests violates a person’s dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for them. This means that the people who give in to the sexual requests will have to continually engage in it to keep their job and those who decline may be declared redundant or stay in a hostile work environment.

Nobody might believe them

Our society has been conditioned to believe that any form of abuse or act has to be justifiable. Victims of rape, sexual assault, or harassment often suffer in silence because sharing their experience may lead to more questions than a solution. People who have experienced sexual harassment at work can be accused of ”seductive dressing” or flirting if at all they decide to speak out. They may also be labeled as the ”bad guy” because of exposing their boss or colleague. Instead of fighting for their rights, the victims may choose to suffer in silence or unexpectedly quit out of fear and misunderstanding.

Inability to stay afloat

Sexual harassment victims who lack additional sources of income or other employment opportunities, unfortunately, continue working in the toxic environment just to cushion themselves financially until things get better for them. Those who give in to the sexual requests work at the mercy of the perpetrators so as to remain employed and receive undeserved favors like a salary raise or promotion.

Individuals who choose to quit are forced to restructure their lives and seek new opportunities in a safe and conducive work environment where their work ethic is not violated sexually.

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How to stop sexual harassment at the workplace

Report the harassment to relevant authorities-As a  staff, you must feel comfortable reporting any behavior that makes you or your colleagues feel uncomfortable. If your co-worker is behaving inappropriately towards you or any other person.it is important to immediately alert the relevant authorities in your place of work, for instance, the Human resource department.

Your employer’s complaint policy ought to highlight the importance of confidentiality so you can raise your concern without fearing any negative consequences such as being fired or discriminated against.

Raise awareness-Chances are, many people are ignorant of some of the inappropriate behavior of sexual harassment. They have normalized the act to a point of enduring with it or remaining silent about the matter. The most effective weapon of prevention is awareness. Staff members aware of such behaviors can easily notice forms of harassment and are less likely to behave inappropriately and more likely to notice any form of harassment.

Your workplace should have a sexual harassment policy-Your organization should have sexual harassment policies in place and all the staff should be made familiar with it. This ensures that everyone feels protected from unwanted behavior. If such a policy has not been familiarized or published in your place of work, speak to your relevant authorities about having one put in place.

Be a good example-Behaving and socializing inappropriately at work ensures that you refrain from such behavior. Being professional in your line of work will act as a barrier against unwanted sexual attention. If a colleague confides in you about a sexual harassment encounter, stand by them by listening to them and helping the victim to report and seek help from the relevant department.

Seek other opportunities-If the pressure and indecency are becoming overwhelming without any action or help from the relevant authorities, your peace of mind is far more important. Seeking other opportunities in a more work-friendly environment will save you from the necessary drama and frustrations that come with sexual harassment at work. It is important to have exhausted all the possible options to save yourself and your career before quitting.

Join forces-It can be difficult to step in alone, especially if you are worried about your own safety and the consequences of speaking out. Enlisting the help of your fellow colleagues against the perpetrator will be a good idea so action can be taken immediately and your rights as an employee will be protected as well.

Sexual harassment is indeed a common occurrence in Kenya as it impacts negatively on the victims and the society at large. Organizations ought to protect the victims and deal with the offenders with immediate action to ensure a friendly workplace for all genders and sexual orientations.

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