In this article, I would like to discuss two matters. First, I would like to share basic information about sexual harassment in the workplace. Second, I would like to provide women with practical tips on seeking redress.
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE?
Sexual harassment is committed in one of three ways:
1) The offender makes an unwelcome sexual advance towards the offended;
2) The offender makes an unwelcome request for sexual favor; or
3) The offender engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.
In any of these situations, the surrounding circumstances are such that a reasonable person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
I believe that women who serve as domestic helpers on Hong Kong or other countries suffer from sexual harassment in greater percentages than reported. I served as legal counsel of a Philippine NGO for more than ten years. This NGO has a center that provides counseling to women who are victims of violence and abuse.
One of the more common settings for abuse is the household, and there were cases when domestic helpers were abused by their male employers. The household setting makes the victims more prone to abuse, and the existence of the employer-employee relationship makes the victim afraid to speak out, except when the abuse becomes unbearable.
If this happens in the Philippines, then it happens in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Sexual harassment is more prevalent than we would like to think, especially in Asian settings where protection of women's rights is not as advanced as in Western settings.
In the United States, much attention has been given to the issue of sexual harassment. It would be helpful for us to take a look at how it is understood and dealt with in that country.
Sexual harassment is of two kinds. One is known as "quid pro quo" harassment, or "something for something" harassment. This means sexual favors are requested or required in exchange for a job, or an employment benefit. For example, an employer may say: "I will give you a salary increase if you give in to my demands". It is important to note that the sexual advance is unwelcome, meaning that the victim did not invite it.
The other kind is known as "hostile work environment harassment." In this situation, the offender shows unwelcome conduct so severe or pervasive that the work environment becomes intimidating, hostile or offensive. Loss of job or benefit is not necessary.
To help us understand it better, here are concrete examples of sexual harassment:
1) Suggestive comments about one's appearance
2) Remarks of a sexual nature about one's clothing or body
3) Unwanted touching or other physical contact
4) Unwanted sexual jokes or comments
5) Sexual advances
6) Pornographic pictures
7) Graffiti, posters, pin-ups or magazines of a sexual nature
8) Sexually explicit statements
9) Remarks about sexual activity
10) Whistling, ogling or leering looks
11) Comments or actions based on gender, such as calling the victim derogatory names referring to body parts.
EFFECTS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Sexual harassment has several effects. These may be economic, psychological or physical.
Economic effects include loss of job, need to change jobs, or even relocate to another place to live, which may be necessary to enable a victim to start anew.
With respect to psychological effects, a study by the American Psychological Association entitled "Sexual Harassment: Myths and Realities" shows that sexual harassment victims experience these reactions:
1) Depression, anxiety, shock, denial
2) Anger, fear, frustration, irritability
3) Insecurity, embarrasment, feelings of betrayal
4) Confusion, feelings of powerlessness
5) Shame, self-consciousness, low self-esteem
6) Guilt, self-blame, isolation.
Physical and psychological reactions include:
3) Gastrointestical reactions
4) Weight fluctuations
5) Dermatological reactions
6) Sleep disturbances and nightmares
7) Phobias, panic reactions
8) Sexual problems.
Psychological effects could be considered injuries. Literally - wounds. These are wounds that cannot be seen by the naked eye. For that reason, these are easier to ignore. Yet, based on my experience in dealing with traumatized women, it is the kind of injury that is most difficult to heal.
PRACTICAL TIPS ON HOW WOMEN
CAN PROTECT THEMSELVES
OR HOW TO SEEK REDRESS
First of all, it is important to have a support group if sexual harassment takes place. In my experience as legal counsel of abused women, there is strength in numbers. Abused women find the courage to uphold their rights if they have a group of supportive people helping them.
Second, bear in mind that the victim has several recourses, including the option filing a case in court if and when the time comes. She must therefore preserve any evidence that may exist. Examples are: torn clothes, medico-legal reports, video footages or photographs of injuries, video footages or photographs of where the incident occurred; if any deadly weapon was used, it must be placed in the custody of the investigators.
Third, get the victim out of the critical situation. Find a place where she can stay safely.
Fourth, talk to witnesses, if any, and get their cooperation. Ask them to write a narration of the incident in their own handwriting. Have their sworn statements taken.
Fifth, the victim must write down everything she remembers up to the last detail.
Sixth, the victim must seek legal advice. It is best to find a lawyer who is sympathetic to women's rights.
Seventh, the victim must file a complaint with the police.
Eighth, the victim must maintain contact with her support group throughout the proceedings, and seek counseling for as long as necessary.
I hope this article has given sufficient basic information to help sexual harassment victims in understanding rights and remedies available to them.