What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
"Sexual harassment" refers to undesired sexual advances. Sexual harassment is a violation of personal rights provided for in Civil Rights Act Title VII, which was passed in1993. According to the aforementioned Act, sexual harassment constitutes undesired sexual advances, including words or actions that are sexual in nature and have a direct effect on a person's employment in terms of performance and/or making the work environment uncomfortable. Sexual harassment is not only be perpetrated by a member of the opposite sex; a member of the same sex as the victim might be responsible. Another major element that is used to distinguish sexual harassment from harmless conduct is the intention of the harasser. If the harasser does not have any sexual intentions, then the alleged conduct or words may not qualify or amount to sexual harassment. Lack of consent is yet another important element that must be proved in sexual harassment cases. There must be proof that the victim did not consent to the sexual advances, words, or conduct of the harasser.
Prevalence of Sexual Harassment
The Human Rights Act of 1993, which seeks to define human rights and protect those rights, states that any acts or words that violate human dignity amount to an abuse of human rights. The law has put the onus on all employers and all senior-level management in organizations to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur in when people are on the job. Despite the passing of this act, however, sexual harassment is still prevalent in workplaces, especially in law offices. Sexual harassment by lawyers is very common in the world today. While it would be expected that such a violation of the law would not occur in law offices as people working there are familiar with the law, law offices are actually the place where sexual harassment is most prevalent.
Read related: Leave Sex, Politics, Religion, and Social Activism out of Your Job Search and Career If You Want to Work in a Large Law Firm
A classic example is that of Rena Weeks, who had been employed as a secretary by a reputable law firm. The man she was working under, however, constantly pursued her, always making clear his sexual intentions. Rena quit the firm and sued her former boss. She was awarded significant compensation, not only for the embarrassment and depression she suffered but also for the financial loss occasioned by her resignation.
It is quite obvious that there are numerous cases of this nature, many of which are never reported as the victims suffer in silence. The step that Weeks took was a brave one which unfortunately not many women are able to take. Weeks' case goes a long way to show how prevalent sexual harassment still is, especially in law offices, more than ten years after the legislation against sexual harassment was passed.
What to Do When Sexually Harassed
The first thing that victims of sexual harassment are advised never to do is to keep quiet about the problem. Failure to report sexual harassment at its early stages could bring adverse consequences later. It is also important that the victim takes the bold step of confronting the harasser. The harasser should be made aware that his behavior and/or his words or conduct are undesirable and uncalled for. It is also wise to seek support from other people, especially coworkers. In extreme cases, however, a victim has a legal right to file a suit against the harasser under the relevant laws and legislation.
What to Do When Falsely Accused of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is not only a violation of the relevant laws; it is also a violation of societal morals. Therefore, it follows that it is a weighty and grievous offense that causes a lot of emotional distress, either for the victim or for any person who is falsely accused of the offense. As a matter of fact, falsely accusing any person of sexual harassment is in itself a violation of the law that can lead to a jail term. False accusations of that sort amount to defamation of character, and one can, therefore, file a case under the relevant defamation laws.
How to Protect Yourself from Sexual Harassment
It is not easy to anticipate sexual harassment and therefore know how to protect yourself. However, to be on the safe side, it is important to always keep a few things in mind to ensure that you protect yourself from sexual harassment. Firstly, it is important to always follow your company's dress code when going to work; revealing clothes should not be worn in the workplace. Jokes that are sexual in nature should be avoided at all costs. This will help prevent misinterpretations by others. As already mentioned, if you feel that you are being sexually harassed, it is not wise to remain silent about it.
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