Do you feel creeped out every time your male boss calls you “honey”, but don’t know how to stop him? Or have you ever wondered whether it’s appropriate for your senior colleague, to whom you’re not very close, to call at 11 PM “just to chat”?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is so common and varied in forms that many women are often worried that they would be making a big deal out of nothing if they made an issue of it. But whether your manager winks at you, a co-worker shows you an inappropriate video, or a client throws sexual jokes at you – any behavior or exchange that makes you uncomfortable is considered a sexual harassment.
This was the main topic of Ruang (Ny)aman’s last session, themed “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”, featuring Inez Kristanti, Adult Clinical Psychologist at Yayasan Pulih.
“Sexual harassment involves abuse of power in which the targeted persons have difficulty protecting him or herself,” said Inez during the discussion at Ke:Kini Co-Working Space, Cikini, Central Jakarta.
Inez said sexual harassment occurred because of power relation and gender relation abuse.
“We cannot deny that sexual harassment can be more prevalent in women because of unequal gender relations. Men have a higher position in society. And there are the macho culture, the stigma against victims of harassment, and sexism,” Inez said.
Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by anyone, whether they’re a manager, a colleague, or a client, and whether a man or woman. And workspace means the physical environment where workers work, either an open or closed space, whether static or moving.
“Work environment includes the physical space in which people work, such as buildings or offices; when they leave and return from work; and when they have to do work outside of office hours,” she explained.
She breaks sexual harassment at work into five types: physical, verbal, written, visual, and psychological. Nonphysical harassment includes verbal, written, and visual harassment, from suggestive remarks and gestures to requests for sexual favors. Physical harassment includes unwanted touches, hugs, and kisses, she said.
For example, if a co-worker texts or emails you an inappropriate story that makes you feel uncomfortable, this is harassment. Showing pornographic content without being solicited is considered visual harassment.
“Psychological harassment usually occurs when there is a repeated interaction between the victim and the perpetrator. For example, the perpetrator lures the victim to go on a date, and she ends up being forced to have sex and this happens repeatedly. This can damage the victim’s psyche,” said Inez.
Inez said, what often happens in the workplace is a “quid pro quo situation”: do this and you’ll get something.
“’If you sleep with me, you will get a promotion, or ‘if you want to go out with me, I will sign those papers,’” said Inez, citing examples.
“Quid pro quo is often misperceived as consensual. But this situation puts the victim in an unfavorable position. For one thing, it is wrong and unethical to make a person make a choice like this,” she added.
Why victims remain silent
There are many reasons why victims choose not to speak up, said Inez. Many are unsure whether what they have experienced is an actual sexual harassment, or they are too embarrassed to come out, or they fear being victim blamed, or they have no evidence or proof. Many are also worried that they would not get the support they need if they report their harassment.
But keeping their experience to themselves often result in negative impacts, from insecurity, helplessness, low self-esteem, and decreased work performance.
“In some cases, those who experience a traumatic sexual harassment, such as rape, might suffer from depression or even PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder),” said Inez.
But there are ways to handle harassment. Inez gave some of the examples of assertive and strategic responses:
- If a coworker harasses you, say, “Stop. Please don’t do that,” or “What you’re doing makes me feel uncomfortable. Please don’t do that again.”
- If you are shown pornographic images that makes you uncomfortable, say, “The picture you’re showing is inappropriate and it makes me uncomfortable. Please remove it.”
- If you are invited to go out with a client and you feel uncomfortable, say, “I do not want to mix work with personal life. Please don’t ever invite me again.”
- If your boss harasses you, say, “Your actions are against the company’s policy, you should understand the impact on your career”. Give them a sense that you can do something too. Let them know that you’re not okay with their treatment. “If you do not stop, then I will write my objection to the chairman of the company.”
In addition, Inez also suggested what companies should do to prevent or deal with sexual harassment.
Companies can develop and issue policies related to the prevention and treatment of sexual harassment in the workplace. They must communicate to all employees about the existence of such policies, and even includes the policy of sexual harassment as an annex to the work contract. The important thing is to implement the existing policies and take effective action, provide support and assistance to victims of sexual harassment such as psychosocial support, and maintains the confidentiality of the victim.
“Though many companies have not implemented this policy, as an employee, we have to understand that these are our actually rights,” she said.
How to be a helpful witness
“When we witness sexual harassment, the first thing we have to do is tell the perpetrator that their actions are undesirable and it has to be stopped. If they don’t stop, document what you have witnessed, or take a complete record who, where, when, and how the harassment happened,” said Inez.
“The least you can do is being supportive when there are coworkers who want to talk about their sexual harassment. We, as a witness, are also responsible to improve the situation,” she added.
Most of the time, a person who commits sexual harassment does not only do it once or to only one person. By speaking up, others will dare to speak up as well, she added. It is also important to know the company’s policy, so at least we know our rights as an employee.
“Keep in mind that we still live in a far from ideal condition in Indonesia. As women, we must be assertive, and we must equip and empower ourselves by knowing what to do when we are in an uncomfortable situation,” said Inez.
Ruang (Ny)Aman, which means a safe and comfortable space, is a monthly gathering, and a joint initiative of Ke:kini Co-Working Space, Magdalene and The O Project.
This month’s Ruang (Ny)aman session on April 18 will be discussing the topic of “Women’s Reproductive Health”, at Ke:Kini Co-Working Space, Cikini, Central Jakarta. Follow Magdalene on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more information.
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