Sexual harassment in the workplace is more common than many people or organisations would like to admit.
However, as much as some would like to deny it, sexual harassment takes place in most workplaces and the unfortunate reality is that women are more commonly the victims.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is any kind of gesture or behaviour that is unwelcome, offensive, degrading or intimidating. This sort of harassment can be physical, verbal or in written form and can happen online or in person.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in South Africa
The only way to fully grasp the enormity of this particular issue is to take a look at the statistics, which shed true light on how prevalent sexual harassment is in our workplace.
A study conducted by research agency Columinate engaged with 1000 South Africans who are living and working in the urban environment in order to investigate sexual harassment statistics, specifically in the workplace.
Let’s just say that the findings were gut-wrenching.
To begin, 30% of women reported that they were at some stage on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, while 18% of men reported the same.
The harassment came in various forms:
15% of those who experienced sexual harassment reported that it was verbal
38% said that verbal harassment evolved into unwanted physical touching
42% experienced indecent staring at body parts
32% have received unwelcome messages of a sexual nature
The shocking truth is that both men and women experience sexual harassment in the workplace, but the fact remains that women are often harassed by men in superior positions within the workplace hierarchy.
Perhaps this is why a third of women who experience sexual harassment don’t report it as they believe that management won’t do anything about it.
In addition, women often avoid reporting sexual harassment because they have been intimidated by the perpetrators and told to keep quiet, or they are afraid of losing their jobs. This is a significant and relevant fear as women face many challenges to finding a job to begin with.
This is once again an uncomfortable reminder that sexual harassment is an ever-present intruding force that still exists and is closely linked to misogyny, despite the awareness that has been brought to the matter.
Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
To throw fuel onto an already raging fire, workplace policies fundamentally lack sufficient protocol for dealing with sexual harassment sufficiently.
51% of workplaces in South Africa do not have a concise sexual harassment policy in place while only 37% of organisations have a clear process to follow in order to report sexual harassment.
What this points out is that sexual harassment is not taken as seriously as it should be by organisations or their managers.
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?
Unfortunately, sexual harassment comes in many forms and if it’s not overly blatant, it often goes unnoticed.
Therefore, it’s important to know what sexual harassment can look like in order to identify it quickly and deal with it appropriately:
Making any form of physical contact with you without your consent
Asking you for any form of sexual favours, including sexual intercourse
Staring at you and your body parts in an indecent manner
Insulting you with sexual comments
Making sexual comments or jokes to you or in your presence
Making sexual or suggestive body movements towards you
Indecent exposure of themselves to you
Making obscene phone calls to you
Sending unwelcome sexual messages or emails
Displaying offensive material for you to see
Making comments with a sexual connotation or undertone
How can it be Addressed?
The only way this issue can be properly addressed is for organisations to take it seriously. Victim shaming, gas lighting and inaction are the biggest allies to sexual harassment.
Protecting victims in both the public and private sector has become a matter of urgency, and this starts with education and training which should be made compulsory.
In addition, clear and comprehensive policies to deal with sexual harassment need to be implemented into every single organisation’s standard operating procedures.
These policies must ensure that every single case is dealt with effectively and without mercy so that sexual harassment in all its forms can be stopped.
Nazerit Wilson – Female Authors in South Africa
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a harrowing reality that exists in the lives of many employees in South Africa.
The only way that we can make a difference is to know the limitless boundaries of sexual harassment and its eternal consequences so we can use our voices against it.
Have you experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace? Please contact me so we can talk about the impact that it has had on you.