Sexual harassment remains a reality of the world we live in. It can take place almost anywhere - offices, schools, colleges, public places and even online. The #MeToo movement highlighted a lack of knowledge about the whole issue - what constitutes as sexual harassment, your rights & the laws that support you if you have been sexually harassed and how to support someone you know who has been harassed.
Similarly, if a person has been accused of sexual harassment, what should he/she do. It’s a lot to process and understand but here are some basics to help one deal with sexual harassment.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwanted verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature and makes the person at the receiving end of it feel unsafe, offended, intimidated and embarrassed, among other things.
Sexual harassment includes, and is not limited to -
- Staring inappropriately at someone
- Cracking sexual jokes
- Showing or sending unwanted sexual images, including sending them online
- Demanding hugs, dates or sexual favours from someone
- Asking questions or talking about someone’s sexuality, sex life or body, even when they don’t want to
- Making unnecessary physical contact that makes the other person uncomfortable
- Using language that puts someone down on the basis of their gender
- Spreading sexual rumours about someone, online and offline
- Threatening to fire or punish someone if they don’t accept sexual advances
- Stalking someone
If you have been sexually harassed
Get immediate medical attention, specially if you have been physically assaulted. It is also a good idea to seek mental health counselling. Very important: If you can and feel safe to do so, ask the harasser to stop immediately. You should also try to reach out to someone you trust and can talk to someone about what has happened. And remember, none of this is your fault at all.
Also, if you can and feel upto it, try to write down as detailed a record as possible of the incident and store and make copies of anything that can act as proof of the incident. There are laws that can help you fight the case in court, if you choose to and also, you must keep in mind that you have the right to an FIR against the harasser, if you want to.
Laws against sexual harassment in India
Sexual harassment is a serious offence, and there are laws in India that help the victim fight for justice. Here is a list of all the laws against sexual harassment under the Indian Penal Code and the IT act.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013
The #MeToo movement opened up a can of worms when it came to women being harassed at workplaces. The Indian laws clearly state what constitutes as sexual harassment at workplace, and the guidelines date back to 1997, when the Supreme Court formulated the Vishaka Guidelines, while passing a judgement on the Bhanwari Devi gang-rape case. Vishaka guidelines laid the foundation for the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013, which details out prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment cases at work.
In case someone you know, a friend or a loved on has been sexually harassed and they reach out to you, it is important to listen to them, without any judgement and with as much empathy as possible. Try not to minimise their experience or story, especially if you don’t know all the facts. If you are able to, provide them emotional support, help them get medical and emotional counselling.
And most importantly, take care of yourself. A lot of us can find hearing about sexual harassment traumatic and triggering. If you feel like that, it is important to seek counselling for yourself also.
In case you or someone you know, a friend or a loved one is accused of sexual harassment, here are a few things to keep in mind, when deciding on how to respond to them.
Co-operate with the Investigation
It is important that you fully co-operate with any investigation that is pursued and not try to avoid it. Remember once a charge is made, the likelihood of starting an investigation is high, and they will pursue even if you do not co-operate. It is best to be factual and present your case.
If you know the charges against you are correct and based on facts, it is best to admit them. If you are guilty, you must also stop your harassing immediately and also offer an apology, not in lieu of an action or punishment, but despite that.
Talk to a lawyer
If you feel the charges are incorrect, stay calm and consult a lawyer. Do not in any case, confront the accuser. Try to keep all the facts and proof that you may have, with you.
If someone you know has been accused of sexual harassment and reaches out to you, if you can, offer to listen and be non-judgement. It can be a tricky place to be, where you want to support your friend but not condone his/her behaviour. Remember you can be a friend and still hold them accountable for what they have done and also, as a friend, you are neither expected to pick sides or approve of their actions or opinions.
And most importantly, take care of yourself and set healthy boundaries that help you cope with the situation in the best possible way.