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Sexual Harassment of Women. Exploring The Concept with Types, Effect And Legal Provisions For Protec

Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual behaviour thats offensive, humiliating or intimidating. Most importantly, its against the law. Sexual Harassment is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours.

In some contexts or circumstances, sexual Harassment may be illegal. It includes a range of behaviour from seemingly mild transgressions and annoyances to actual sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Sexual Harassment is a form of illegal employment discrimination in many countries, and is a form of abuse (sexual and psychological) and bullying. For many businesses, preventing sexual harassment, and defending employees from sexual harassment charges has become key goals of legal decision-making. In contrast, many scholars complain that sexual harassment in education remains a forgotten secret, with educators and administrators refusing to admit the problem exist in their schools, or accept their legal and ethical responsibilities to deal with it.

Early history of the use of the term: sexual harassment was used in 1973 by Dr. Mary Rowe in a report to the then President and Chancellor of MIT about various forms of gender issues {1}. Rowe has stated that she believes she was not the first to use the term, since sexual harassment was being discussed in womens groups in Massachusetts in the early 1970, but that MIT may have been the first or one of the first large organizations to discuss the topic (in the MIT Academic Council), and to develop relevant policies and procedures. MIT at the time also recognized the injuries caused by racial harassment and the harassment of women of colour which may be both racial and sexual. The President of MIT also stated that harassment (and favouritism) is antithetical to the mission of a university as well as intolerable for individuals.

In the book In Our Times: Memoir of a Revolution (1999) journalist Susan Brownmiller  quotes the Cornell activists who in 1975 thought they had coined the term sexual harassment: Eight of us were sitting in an office brainstorming about what we were going to write on  posters for our speak-out.

We were referring to it as sexual intimidation, sexual coercion, sexual exploitation on the job. None of those names seemed quite right. We wanted something that embraced a whole range of subtitle and un-subtitle persistent behaviors. Somebody came up with harassment. Sexual harassment instantly we agreed. Thats what it was {2}.

These activists, Lin Farley, Susan Meyer, and Karen Sauvigne went on to form Working Womens Institute which, along with the Alliance against Sexual Coercion, founded in 1976 by Freada Klein, Lynn Wehrli, and Elizabeth Cohn-Stuntz, were among the pioneer organizations to bring sexual harassment to public attention in the late 1970.

Harassment situations:  Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. Often, but not always, the harasser is in a position of power or authority over the victim (due to differences in age, or social, political, educational or employment relationships).

Forms of harassment relationships include:
  1. The victim does not have to be the person directly harassed but can be anyone who finds the behavior offensive and is affected by it.
  2. While adverse effects on the victim are common, this does not have to be the case for the behavior to be unlawful.
  3. The victim can be any gender. The harasser can be any gender.
  4. The harasser does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  5. The harasser may be completely unaware that his or her behavior is offensive or constitutes sexual harassment or may be completely unaware that his or her actions could be unlawful.

Misunderstanding between Female:  It can result from a situation where one thinks he/she is making themselves clear, but is not understood the way they intended. The misunderstanding can either be reasonable or unreasonable. An example of unreasonable is when a man holds a certain stereotypical view of a woman such that he did not understand the womans explicit message to stop.

Varied behaviours:  One of the difficulties in understanding sexual harassment is that it involves a range of behavior and is often difficult for the recipient to describe to themselves, and to others, exactly what they are experiencing. Moreover, behavior and motives vary between individual harassers.

Behavioral classes:  Dzeich et al has divided harassers into two broad classes:
  1. Public harassers are flagrant in their seductive or sexist attitudes towards colleagues, subordinates, students, etc.
  2. Private harassers carefully cultivate a restrained and respectable image on the surface, but when alone with their target, their demeanor changes.

Langelan describes three different classes of harassers:
  1. Predatory harasser: who gets sexual thrills from humiliating others? This harasser may become involved in sexual extortion, and may frequently harass just to see how targets respond. Those who dont resist may even become targets for rape.
  2. Dominance harasser:  the most common type, who engages in harassing behaviour as an ego boost, strategic or territorial harassers who seek to maintain privilege in jobs or physical locations, for example a mans harassing female employees in a predominantly male occupation.

Types of harassment
There is often more than one type of harassing behavior present, so a single harasser may fit more than one category.

These are brief summations of each type:
  1. Power-player: Legally termed quid pro quo harassment, these harassers insist on sexual favors in exchange for benefits they can dispense because of their positions in hierarchies: getting or keeping a job, favorable grades, recommendations, credentials, projects, promotion, orders, and other types of opportunities.
  2. Mother/Father Figure: These harassers will try to create mentor-like relationships with their targets, all the while masking their sexual intentions with pretenses towards personal, professional, or academic attention.
  3.  One-of-the-Gang: Harassment occurs when groups of men or women embarrass others with low comments, physical evaluations, or other unwanted sexual attention. Harassers may act individually in order to belong or impress the others, or groups may gang up on a particular target.
  4. Serial Harasser: Harassers of this type carefully build up an image so that people would find it hard to believe they would do anyone any harm. They plan their approaches carefully, and strike in private so that it is their word against that of their victims.
  5. Groper Whenever the opportunity presents itself, these harasser eyes and hands begin to wander, engaging in unwanted physical contact that may start innocuous but lead to worse.
  6. Opportunist: Opportunist use physical settings and circumstances, or infrequently occurring opportunities, to mask premeditated or intentional sexual behavior towards targets. This will often involve changing the environment in order to minimize inhibitory effects of the workplace or school or taking advantage of physical tasks to accidentally grope a target.
  7. Bully: In this case, a harasser uses physical threats to frighten and separate two would be lovers who will fully are engaging with each other. The intent of the harasser can be due to a range of reasons such as jealousy, racism, or their own hidden sexual agendas. Normally the harasser attempts to physically separate the two using their size or threats of physical violence and remains until they are satisfied by the separation or can pursue their own sexual agenda against one of the victims.
  8. Confidante: Harassers of this type approach subordinates, or students, as equals or friends, sharing about their own life experiences and difficulties, sharing stories to win admiration and sympathy, and inviting subordinates to share theirs so as to make them feel valued and trusted. Soon these relationships move into an intimate domain. Situational Harasser Harassing behavior begins when the perpetrator endures a traumatic event (psychological), or begins to experience very stressful life situations, such as psychological or medical problems, marital problems, or divorce. The harassment will usually stop if the situation changes or the pressures are removed.
  9. Pest: This is the stereotypical wont take no for an answer harasser who persists in hounding a target for attention and dates even after persistent rejections. This behavior is usually misguided, with no malicious intent.
  10. Great Gallant: This mostly verbal harassment involves excessive compliments and personal comments that focus on appearance and gender, and are out of place or embarrassing to the recipient.
  11. Intellectual Seducer: Most often found in educational settings, these harassers will try to use their knowledge and skills as an avenue to gain access to students, or information about students, for sexual purposes. They may require students participate in exercises or studies that reveal information about their sexual experiences, preferences, and habits.
  12. Incompetent: These are individuals who desire the attentions of their targets, who do not reciprocate these feelings. They may display a sense of entitlement, believing their targets should feel flattered by their attentions. When rejected, this type of harasser may use bullying methods as a form of revenge.
  13. Stalking: Persistent watching, following, contacting or observing of an individual, sometimes motivated by what the stalker believes to be love, or by sexual obsession, or by anger and hostility.
  14. Unintentional: Acts or comments of a sexual nature, not intended to harass, can constitute sexual harassment if another person feels uncomfortable with such subjects.
  15. Sexualized environments: Sexualized environments are environments where Obscenities, sexual joking, sexually explicit graffiti, viewing Internet pornography, sexually degrading posters and objects, etc., are common. None of these behaviors or objects may necessarily be directed at anyone in particular or intended as harassment. However, they can create an offensive environment, and one that is consistent with hostile environment sexual harassment.
  16. Rituals and initiations: Sexual harassment can also occur in group settings as part of rituals or ceremonies, such as when members engage newcomers in abusive or sexually explicit rites as part of hazing or initiation. While such traditions have historically remained in arenas of male bonding or female bonding, such as team sports, fraternities, and sororities, it is becoming increasingly common for girls/women groups to engage in similar ceremonies.
  17. Retaliation and backlash: Retaliation and backlash against a victim are very common, particularly a complainant. Victims who speak out against sexual harassment are often labeled troublemakers who are on their own power trips, or who are looking for attention. Similar to cases of rape or sexual assault, the victim often becomes the accused, with their appearance, private life and character likely to fall under intrusive scrutiny and attack. They risk hostility and isolation from colleagues, supervisors, teachers, fellow students, and even friends. They may become the targets of mobbing or relational aggression.
Women are not necessarily sympathetic to female complainants who have been sexually harassed. If the harasser was male, internalized sexism, and/or jealousy over the sexual attention towards the victim, may encourage some women to react with as much hostility towards the complainant as some male colleagues. Fear of being targeted for harassment or retaliation themselves may also cause some women to respond with hostility.

For example, ' when Lois Jenson filed her lawsuit against Evelcth Taconite Co., the women placed a hangmans noose above her workplace, and shunnedher both at work and in the community many of these women later joined her suit (Bingham et al. 2002) Women may even project hostility onto the victim in order to bond with their male coworkers and build trust. Retaliation has occurred when a sexual harassment victim suffers a negative action as a result of the harassment. For example, a complainant be given poor evaluations or low grades, have their projects sabotaged, be denied work or academic opportunities, have their work hours out back, and other actions against them which undermine their productivity, or their ability to advance at work or school.

They may be suspended, asked to resign, or be fired from their jobs altogether. Moreover, a professor or employer accused of sexual harassment, or who is the colleague of a perpetrator, can use their power to see that a victim is never hired again, or never accepted to another school. Retaliation can even involve further sexual harassment, and also stalking and cyber stalking of the victim. Of the women who have approached her to share their own experiences of being sexually harassed by their teachers, feminist and writer Naomi Wolf writes"
I am ashamed of what I tell them, that they should indeed worry about making an accusation because what they fear is likely to come true. Not one of the women I have heard from had an outcome that was not worse for her than silence. One, I recall, was drummed out of the school by peer pressure. Many faced bureaucratic stonewalling. Some women said they lost their academic status as golden girls overnight; grants dried up, letters of recommendation were no longer forthcoming.

No one was met with a coherent process that was not weighted against them. Usually, the key decision-makers in the college or university especially if it was a private university-joined forces to, in effect, collude with the faculty member accused; to protect not him necessarily but the reputation of the university, and to keep information from surfacing in a way that could protect other women. The goal seemed to be not to provide a balanced forum, but damage control.

Another woman who was interviewed by Helen Watson, a sociologist, reported that Facing up to the crime and having to deal with it in public is probably worse than suffering in silence. I found it to be a lot worse than the harassment itself.

Effects of sexual harassment and the (often) accompanying retaliation: Effects of sexual harassment can vary depending on the individual, and the severity and duration of the harassment. Often, sexual harassment incidents fall into the category of the merely annoying. However, many situations can, and do, have life-altering effects particularly when they involve severe/chronic abuses, and/or retaliation against a victim who does not submit to the harassment, or who complains about it openly. Indeed, psychologists and social workers report that severe/chronic sexual harassment can have the same psychological effects as rape or sexual assault. (Koss, 1987)

For example, in 1995, Judith Coflin committed suicide after chronic sexual harassment by her bosses and coworkers. (Her family was later awarded 6 million dollars in punitive and compensatory damages.) Backlash and victim blaming can further aggravate the effects. Moreover, every year, sexual harassment costs hundreds of millions of dollars in lost educational and professional opportunities, mostly for girls and women.

Common effects on the victims:  Common professional, academic, financial, and social effects of sexual harassment:
  1. Decreased work or school performance; increased absenteeism.
  2. Loss of job or career, loss of income.
  3. Having to drop courses, change academic plans, or leave school (loss of tuition).
  4. Having ones personal life offered up for public scrutiny-the Victim becomes the accused,  and his or her dress, lifestyle, and private life will often come under attack.
  5. Being objectified and humiliated by scrutiny and gossip.
  6. Becoming publicly sexualized (i.e. groups of people evaluate the victim to establish if he or she is worth the sexual attention or the risk to the harassers career).
  7. Defamation of character and reputation.
  8. Loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred.
  9. Loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or his or her colleagues.
  10. Extreme stress upon relationships with significant others, sometimes resulting in divorce; extreme stress on peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues.
  11. Weakening of support network, or being ostracized from professional or academic circles (friends, colleagues, or family may distance them from the victim, or shun him or her altogether).
  12. Having to relocate to another city, another job, or another school. Loss of references/recommendations.

Some of the psychological and health effects that can occur in someone who has been sexually harassed, depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks, sleeplessness and nightmares, shame and guilt, difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue or loss of motivation, stomach problems, eating disorders (weight loss or gain), alcoholism, feeling betrayed and/or violated, feeling angry or violent towards the perpetrator, feeling powerless or out of control, increased blood pressure, loss of confidence and self esteem, withdrawal and isolation, overall loss of trust in people, traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts or attempts, suicide.

Effects of sexual harassment on organizations
  1. Decreased productivity and increased team conflict.
  2. Decrease in success at meeting financial goals (because of team conflict).
  3. Decreased job satisfaction.
  4. Loss of staff and expertise from resignations to avoid harassment or resignations/ firings of alleged harassers; loss of students who leave school to avoid harassment.
  5. Decreased productivity and/or increased absenteeism by staff or students experiencing harassment.
  6. Increased health care costs and sick pay costs because of the health consequences of harassment.
  7. The knowledge that harassment is permitted can undermine ethical standards and discipline in the organization in general, as staff and/or students lose respect for, and trust in, their seniors who indulge in, or turn a blind eye to, sexual harassment.
  8. If the problem is ignored, a companys or schools image can suffer.
  9. Legal costs if the problem is ignored and complainants take the issue to court.

Evolution of sexual harassment law:
the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan {3} in 1997 has been credited with establishing sexual harassment as illegal. In Israel, the 1988 Equal Employment Opportunity Law made it a crime for an employer to retaliate against an employee who had rejected sexual advances, but it wasnt until 1998 that the Israeli Sexual Harassment Law made such behavior illegal.

In May 2002, the European Union Council and Parliament amended a 1976 Council Directive on the equal treatment of men and women in employment to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, naming it a form of sex discrimination and violation of dignity. This Directive required all Member States of the European Union to adopt laws on sexual harassment, or amend existing laws to comply with the Directive by October 2005.

In 2005, China added new provisions to the Law on Womens Right Protection to include sexual harassment. In 2006 The Shanghai Supplement was drafted to help further define sexual harassment in China.

Varied legal guidelines and definitions: The United Nations General Recommendation 19 to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women defines sexual harassment of women to include:
such unwelcome sexually determined behavior as physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable ground to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment.

While such conduct can be harassment of women by men, many laws around the world which prohibit sexual harassment recognize that both men and women may be harassers or victims of sexual harassment. However, most claims of sexual harassment are made by women. There are many similarities, and also important differences in laws and definitions used around the world. After covering one country in some detail (the United States), approaches in other countries are covered alphabetically.

United States: There are a number of legal options for a complainant in the U.S. mediation, filing with the EEOC or filing a claim under a state Fair Employment Practices (FEP) statute (both are for workplace sexual harassment), filing a common law tort, etc. Not all sexual harassment will be considered severe enough to form the basis for a legal claim.

However, most often there are several types of harassing behaviors present, and there is no minimum level for harassing conduct under the law. Many more experienced sexual harassment than have a solid legal case against the accused. Because of this, and the common preference for settling, few cases ever make it to federal court.

India: Sexual harassment in India is termed Eve Teasing and is described as: unwelcome sexual gesture or behaviour whether directly or indirectly as sexually coloured remarks; physical contact and advances; showing pornography; a demand or request for sexual favours; any other unwelcome physical, verbal/non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature. The critical factor is the unwelcomeness of the behaviour, thereby making the impact of such actions on the recipient more relevant rather than intent of the perpetrator.

According to Indias constitution, sexual harassment infringes the fundamental right of a woman to gender equality under Article 14 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Many provisions in other legislation protect against sexual harassment at workplace, such as Section 354, IPC deals with assault or criminal force to a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty, and Section 509, IPC deals with word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. But In India, until the landmark decision in Vishaka Case was delivered, there was as such no law or rule that specifically addressed the heinous issue of sexual harassment of women at workplace.

Based on this case, the Indian Supreme Court laid out guidelines (commonly known as the Vishaka Guidelines) which makes it mandatory for all the employers to provide an effective mechanism to ensure that the right to gender equality of working women will not get obstructed in their organizations.

Further, this case has strongly grounded the argument that each incident of sexual harassment of women at workplace is the violation of human rights and additionally paved the way for legislation on sexual harassment of women at workplace in India.

The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010 has been passed in India with an aim to define sexual harassment in a more explicit manner and create a mechanism for the redressal of complaints.

Further, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has been passed to elucidate that which types of acts are contemplated under the umbrella of sexual harassment and how organizations can take proactive measures to ensure the safety and dignity of women at workplace.

According to Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace: (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013:
Section 3(1): No woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace.
Section 19(a): Every employer shall provide a safe working environment at the workplace which shall include safety from the persons coming into contact at the workplace.{4}

Another significant legal provision that was brought by the Indian State in force is The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. The Act came into force on 3rd February, 2013, following the outrage of the entire nation behind the ghastly incident of Delhi rape case, widely known as the Nirbhaya Case. This Act has introduced significant changes in the provisions under Indian Penal Code and expressly recognized certain acts as offences including sexual harassment, which is punishable up to three years of imprisonment or fine or both under Section 354-A.

As well, passing sexually coloured commentaries also amounts to sexual harassment, thereby making this a crime which is punishable up to one year of imprisonment or fine or both. According to the Indian Constitution, any act of sexual harassment intrudes as well as rescinds the fundamental right of a woman to gender equality under Article 14 and also her right to life and live with dignity under Article 21.
  1. Flavia Agnes, Violence Against Women: Review of Recent Enactments. In Swapna Mukhopadhyay, In the Name of Justice: Women and Law in Society. Manohar, Delhi,1988, pp. 81-116
  2. Upendra Baxi, The Avatars of Indian Judicial Activism: Explorations in the Geographies of [In]Justice. In S.K. Verma and Kusum (eds.), Fifty Years of the Supreme Court of India: Its Grasp and Reach. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000, pp. 156-209
  3. Nivedita Menon, Embodying the Self: Feminism, Sexual Violence and the Law. In Partha Chatterjee and Pradeep Jaganathan (eds.), Community, Gender and Violence. Subaltern Studies XI. Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2000, pp. 66-105
  4. Ratna Kapur and Shomona Khanna, Memorandum on the Reform of Laws Relating to Sexual Offences. Centre for Legal Research, Delhi, 1996
  5. Saheli, Another Occupational Hazard: Sexual Harassment and the Working Woman. Saheli Womens Resource Centre, New Delhi, 1998
  6. Shobna Saxena, Crimes against Women and Protective Laws. Deep and Deep, New Delhi, 1995
  7. Ashley Tellis, Resisting Feminism, Indian Journal of Gender Studies 8(1), 2001
  9. Adapted from Back Off! How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers by, Martha.Langelan.
  10. D. D. Basu (1994). Introduction to the Constitution of India.16th ed. New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India.

End Notes:
  1. Saturns Rings, 1974.
  2. Our Times: Memoir of a Revolution (1999)P-281
  3. (1997) 6 SCC 241, AIR 1997 SC 3011
  4. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace: (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act,2013

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