Day 6: HOW TO: report sexual harrassment

How can you practically empower yourself, or the women and children you know, during this year’s 16 days of Activism? The Mail & Guardian‘s “HOW TO” guide will tackle a different area each day, including suing for maintenance, applying for a social grant and getting an interdict against an abusive partner.

How to go about reporting sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace

Sexual harassment is a common problem in our country. In a lot of instances, however, victims of sexual harassment either dismiss the misconduct as not qualifying as harassment or are simply not aware of what legally constitutes such an act. Here are some guidelines to help unravel some of the mysteries around sexual harassment:

The Code of Good Conduct on Handling Sexual Harassment Cases is the benchmark from which employers can get guidance on how to prevent/deal with sexual harassment in an organisation.

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, distinguishing it from behaviour that is welcome and mutual.

Sexual harassment is noticeable by:

  • Persistent behaviour, despite the victim having made it clear that the conduct is not mutual and is uncomfortable.
  • A once-off occurrence/ incident may constitute an act of sexual harassment, if the victim is uncomfortable with the nature of the incident.

Forms of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment may include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct, but is not limited to the examples listed below:

  • Physical conduct of a sexual nature includes all unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape, and includes a strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex.
  • Verbal forms of sexual harassment include unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes or insults or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body made in their presence or directed toward them, unwelcome and inappropriate enquiries about a person’s sex life, and unwelcome whistling directed at a person or group of persons.
  • Non-verbal forms of sexual harassment include unwelcome gestures, indecent exposure, and the unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects.
  • Quid pro quo harassment occurs where an owner, employer, supervisor, member of management or co-employee, undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increment or other benefit of an employee or job applicant, in exchange for sexual favours.
  • Sexual favouritism exists where a person who is in a position of authority rewards only those who respond to his/her sexual advances, whilst other deserving employees who do not submit themselves to any sexual advances are denied promotions, merit rating or salary increases.

There are formal and informal steps that a victim of a victim of sexual harassment can take to resolve the matter.

Informal steps
In order to get to the bottom of a sexual harassment matter, a victim can:

  • Talk to the perpetrator about the incident(s) in order to establish and make it clear to both parties that the conduct made you uncomfortable
  • If you feel uncomfortable about facing the perpetrator on your own, ask a friend or colleague to accompany you in confronting him/her
  • Alternatively you can write to the abuser to state your discomfort with the conduct. Remember to keep a copy of the letter as proof that you did communicate your discomfort.
  • You can also ask someone to speak to the abuser on your behalf.

Formal steps
Should you choose to go the formal route in reporting the abuse, you should:

  • Ask your company’s human resources department for documentation specifically highlighting the procedure the company follows in disputes involving sexual harassment.
  • The policy documentation should specify to whom you should lodge the grievance.
  • Make sure that there is reference to timeframes which allow the grievance to be dealt with expeditiously, and
  • make sure the employer provides allowance that if the case is not resolved satisfactorily, the issue can be dealt with in terms of the dispute procedures contained in the code.
  • It is very important that the victim in a sexual harassment case keep as much evidence as possible to help build their case, as in some instances charges may be difficult to prove.

    • Read the daily “HOW TO” guides so far here

    The above information is courtesy of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, Wits University,
    Gender Links

    View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here.

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