What really is sexual harassment?
There are no set rules as to what behaviour constitutes as sexual harassment and what does not. An act, a gesture, a spoken word, an innuendo anything which makes a woman feel uncomfortable or makes her feel as if her modesty is being encroached upon amounts to sexual harassment. It is a right of every woman to lead an independent dignified life and when her independence or dignity is harmed in a way to make her feel unsafe, she is a victim of harassment. Often the acts of sexual harassment are cloaked under the pretense of friendship or affection and it is at such times when women find it more difficult to identify such acts and report them. The following is a list of some examples of acts which amount to sexual harassment:
- use of sexual innuendo or words with double-meanings
- comments about women’s bodies
- ‘accidentally’ brushing against parts of the woman’s body
- unwelcome touching and hugging
- discussion of one’s partner’s sexual inadequacies
- making sexist jokes and cartoons
- obscene phone calls
- inappropriate gifts (ex. lingerie)
- using vulgar or sexually-toned language to speak about a woman
- proposing a sexual act in exchange for a favour
- giving unwanted attention to a woman especially when she has informed the person that she does not require such attention
- showing pornography
- viewing pornography in a public place in presence of women
- cornering, pinching, leaning, groping, attempting to touch or push in the crowd
- wolf whistling, cat calls, calling her names, following a woman
This list does not entirely consist every act which amounts to sexual harassment but it should give the reader a fair understanding of what acts may be termed to be sexual harassment.
What should you do if you are facing sexual harassment?
In the unfortunate event of being harassed sexually, a woman can follow the steps given below.
1. Record the harassment
- Documenting the harassment is important for use as evidence in a case or complaint. Make a detailed note of each incident, highlighting the identity of the assaulter and the acts done by him
- Photograph or record the offensive act
- Make copies of any offensive material at the workplace
- Keep a journal with detailed information on instances of sexual harassment. Note the dates, conversation, frequency of offensive encounters, etc.
- If possible, tell other people, including friends and co-workers, about the harassment
2. Report the harassment and get an acknowledgement of the report
In case the harassment occurs at the workplace of the victim, she can immediately report the same to the HR department or the Women’s Cell/ Committee formed by every organization. It is now made mandatory by law for every organization, whether private or public, to form a women’s grievance redressal committee to curb sexual harassment at workplace. It is the duty of this committee to initiate action against the assaulter within the organization and also to initiate complaint with the police authorities. In case the harassment occurs in any place other than at work, the victim should inform the police authorities about the incidence. Here are a few pointers regarding filing a complaint with the local police authorities
- The victim can approach the police station where she resides or the nearest police station where the incident of sexual harassment occurred. Most of the police stations have a Rapid Response Desk for Women and Senior Citizen where a female constable is present at all times.
- It is the duty of the police authorities to inform the victim that she is entitled to the assistance of a lawyer. Every police station has a list of lawyers willing to assist on such cases. The victim can refer to the list and make her decision
- It is the right of the victim to demand that her information be noted by a female police officer.
- If the harassment has caused injuries to the woman, she can first approach the nearest hospital. It is the duty of the doctors there to initiate her treatment without waiting for the police to arrive. The doctors have to collect all the necessary evidence regarding the assault.
- Privacy of the victim has to be maintained. The information of the identity of the victim has to be maintained with utmost care and privacy.
- Once the accused is arrested he cannot be released on bail unless he is produced before the court
- Even after the accused gets bail, he is to be kept under a restraining order, i.e. the accused cannot meet/ or attempt to meet and interact with the victim
- The victim can demand police protection
- Once the investigation is completed, a formal record of the crime is prepared which is called the charge sheet. This is then sent to the court
- Once the charge sheet is filed, it is the responsibility of the court to hear the case as soon as possible
- It is the duty of the police authorities and the court to ensure that the victim does not have to visit the court often for hearing of such cases
In conclusion, there are a number of laws/ procedures and guidelines laid down for the protection of the victim of sexual harassment; however, there are times when these procedures are not followed, often owing to the callousness of the authorities. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, there are steps that you can take to stop the problem and enforce your right to a legal remedy. Talk to an experienced lawyer in your area to discuss the facts of your particular situation and ensure that your legal rights are protected.