Sexual harassment is such a heinous act, which affects the victim mentally. Due to our justice system, the perpetrator tends to go scot-free. Besides, they keep playing a blame-game, so that new victims are silenced at the beginning itself, if ever the incidents come out in the open. The victims tend to suffer continuously until it becomes too late.
Gauri was working in a college laboratory as an assistant. A Christian priest was studying for his PhD there. The lab was congested with many tables. One day when she was standing near a table lining the wall, he brushed his buttocks on hers while passing near her. “He could very well have told me that he wanted to pass. I would have given him some space. It was not a done thing for him. Things got worse, so worse that I am ashamed to say it here, I left the place.”
Kavitha was unmarried and worked as a sub-editor in a medical journal. The advertising in charge had an eye on her. One day, he asked the female married Assistant Editor about the female reproductive system in front of Kavitha, eying the younger girl in a cheap way. The Assistant Editor told him everything without any embarrassment. Thus his harassment of Kavitha started with several sexual innuendoes. No wonder she left the job soon.
These are just a couple of incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace by men. But these ended in the victim leaving the job. Sometimes the victims need the job they are doing desperately, so they suffer until it is too late.
Sexual Harassment of Subordinate: Why are only subordinates targeted? Why do these lecherous men not target their colleagues or superiors? Dr. Sajid Ali Khan, Consultant Psychiatrist, Kohinoor Hospital, Mumbai, says, “There are many reasons. A subordinate may be an easy target for a perverted mind. Sometimes a person who is an extrovert and out spoken may be mistaken as loose character or the man may wrongly think that she is dropping a hint. It may be cultural or due to faulty upbringing, one may consider working women as loose or easily available. Also, there is a condition known as delusional disorder. A person who suffers from this condition may be convinced that the other person is in love with him or her and may start stalking. When he does not get a positive response he may even assault the victim.”
Dr. Arti Anand, Clinical Psychologist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi says, “Often women subordinates are considered weak and less powerful by male subordinates. They think women can be easily manipulated, threatened, molded psychologically and do not possess the courage to complain to anybody about the harassment.”
Dr. Sajid adds, “A subordinate is an easy target. A superior can dictate her on pretext of work. Sometimes they may be pressurized by allotting transfer, difficult work or inconvenient posting. At times the fear of losing a job may make a subordinate give in. Superiors are normally not harassed due to their seniority and position.”
Dr. Arti agrees, “Yes, mostly women subordinates are harassed sexually. It can’t happen with a female superior as they can’t be forced into it and are at a good position in the organization.”
Blame Games: It maybe all too easy for the victim to complain to a person superior to the perpetrator. But, when confronted with an order to explain his behavior the man always starts playing a blame-game. Blaming the victim is all too easy for him because he thinks the supposed weaker sex cannot retaliate. Dr. Sajid explains, “The inability to justify their actions leads them to blame the victim. It is a weak defense.”
Dr. Arti agrees, “When the case comes to lime light, perpetuators try to escape from the situation by putting all the blame on the victim. They stigmatize the victim by claiming that she is mentally ill and is putting false allegations on the perpetrator. Also, no evidence exists to verify the illness. The victim often is not able to refute theses claims as she not confident enough to face the public.”
Solutions: The experts suggest a few solutions. Dr. Sajid advises, “The victim must maintain a professional attitude. It is of great help if she informs her superior, co workers or the authorities immediately at the first instance itself. If someone is pressurized, they must immediately alleviate the matter.”
Dr. Arti opines, “Sexual harassment is an extremely disturbing incident for a woman. The victim must talk to her friends and parents. She should go to cell for sexual harassment and seek maximum support from colleagues. One needs to take step and raise her voice otherwise these things will continue and someone else would be a victim the next day.”
Professional Help: If things go out of hand, the victim needs to take help from medical professionals. Dr. Sajid enlightens, “A psychiatrist can help victims through counseling to overcome the trauma or they may prescribe medicines to battle the psychological illness precipitated by the trauma.”
Dr. Arti informs, “The job of a psychologist is to make her feel that she is not a victim anymore and help her to gain strength and confidence.”
Why Treatment of the Victim Only: The victim gets so traumatized that she has to visit a psychiatrist. Although the perpetrator is himself mentally ill, nobody advises him to take medical advice. But Dr. Sajid says, “The girl may need treatment to overcome the trauma. The perpetrator too should be evaluated for any perversion or psychological problem and dealt with accordingly.”
However, Dr. Arti is of the opinion, “Well, since the woman has undergone the mental stress and physical as well as psychological trauma, she must be counseled so that she accepts the situation. The perpetrator needs to be punished, not counseled. The perpetrator may be given counseling and treatment if they accept that they are suffering from some behavioral problem. However, it should be given along with punishment so that people do not get the wrong notion that they can get away with the crime easily by saying that they need counseling.”
Tackling Problem From Roots: There are a lot of things that need to be done to root out the problem from the foundation itself. But, according to Dr. Sajid, tackling the problem from roots is difficult as there are many factors but certain measures may be of help. He says, “Both male and female workers should be trained and sensitized about this problem by a professional. Permissible and avoidable/objectionable behaviour at workplace should be clearly conveyed to them at the time of recruitment. Every organization should have a code of ethics to prevent sexual harassment and this should be a part of the training. Social and cultural norms about working women need to change and school curriculum should have some material to address this issue.”
According to Dr. Arti the root cause of the problem can be tackled in the following ways:
1) By instilling right values and right childhood practices in children.
2) By finding means to change the society’s attitude towards women and spreading the message that they should not be treated like objects of pleasure.
3) Stricter laws should be made to punish the culprit and news of the punishment must be shared with public to create a fear of law.
4) A firm message should be spread that ‘nobody is above law’.
This article was first published in Eve’s Times magazine and has been republished on this website with the permission of the editor, Swati Amar.