26 May

Sexual harassment is a very uncomfortable but real issue affecting many workers around the world. A study has shown that many people in the workplace are aware of what sexual harassment is, but they not informed on how it’s propagated or what else it entails.

UASA has put together today’s blog to tackle the issue and hopefully shed light on this matter.

Sexual harassment is defined as: 

Any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which can be physical, verbal or non-verbal that creates a negative or hostile environment, and affects the dignity of the person affected. It can be identified if granting sexual favours becomes a condition of employment, or refusal to do so affects employment decisions, or if it unreasonably affects the employees’ work.  

Sexual harassment comes in different ways and is not always obvious or in your face. Though women are mostly affected in the workplace, there have been cases where men are harassed either by other male colleagues or females. 

How can you identify sexual harassment?

There are three ways in which sexual harassment can occur in the workplace, Physical, Verbal or Non-verbal. Below is a list of actions that can be considered to be harassment in nature:

  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex.
  • Unwelcome insinuations
  • Direct sexual advances
  • Comments with sexual overtones (innuendos)
  • Sex-related jokes or insults
  • Graphic comments about a person’s body made in their presence or directed towards them
  • Unwelcome and inappropriate inquiries about a person’s sex life
  • Unwelcome whistling directed at a person or group of persons.
  • Unwelcome gestures (this can include gifts of certain nature e.g. perfume, shoes or cocktail dresses)
  • Indecent exposure or inappropriate clothing at work
  • The unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects e.g. sex toys or pornographic material

What can you do if you’re experiencing sexual harassment at work? 

  • Report the matter – Follow procedures to lay a complaint and keep records of all correspondence in this regard. If a complaint has been laid and your employers continue to ignore the situation and take no action, contact your UASA representative immediately and ask them to intervene.
  • Stand your ground – If the person harassing you is told when it happens the first time that you don’t approve and don’t find it funny, they might back off. Be polite, but firm, and don’t giggle. This might be interpreted as a tacit type of consent.
  • Tell others – Don’t keep quiet, this will only make you more vulnerable. Harassers like isolating their victims physically and socially. If you tell others what’s going on you might also find out that you’re not the only one experiencing such situations. If more than one person lays a complaint, it significantly strengthens the case against the harasser. 
  • Don’t doubt yourself – Harassers often try and pass something off as a joke, however, if it’s continuously at your expense, or attacks your sense of dignity, you’re being harassed. Don’t allow harassers to make you doubt your observation, how their actions make you feel or that you’re overreacting. 
  • Safety in numbers – Make sure that you’re not alone with this person behind closed doors. Take a colleague with you if you feel threatened, and insist that doors be left open if you have to be in a meeting. Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times.
  • Keep records – If you want to lay charges, it’s much more convincing if you can give names, dates, places and the names of possible witnesses, than when your charges are unproven. Anyone who has witnessed any of these events can be called to testify if there’s a disciplinary hearing.

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