How to respond to complainants?
It is important that you listen and respond carefully when a complainant shares his/her experience of sexual harassment with you. Considering the sensitivity of the topic, sometimes it can get difficult to process the details and react responsibly. Here are a few tips to help you through it:
- Acknowledge their experience: Listen with care and consider using affirming phrases like "Thank you for sharing that with me," or "I'm sorry that happened to you, you do not deserve to be treated that way." Respect and acknowledge the complainant's autonomy and strength. (Source)
- Avoid questioning their behavior after the harassment: Sexual harassment is about one person exerting power over another, and it can be very frightening and traumatic. Whether the harassment occurred five years or five minutes ago, asking someone questions such as "Why didn't you report it?" or "Why did you keep working there?" is harmful and perpetuates the cycle of harassment through victim-blaming. (Source)
- Avoid judgement: It can be difficult to watch a complainant's struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?” (Source)
- Check in periodically: The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the complainant to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story. (Source)
- Connect complainants to resources: At times a complainant may not be ready to file a formal report or take action against the perpetrator because of fear of consequences. You can connect complainants to resources and inform them about their workplace rights and legal support they can get. Help them through the process if they agree to take it forward.
How to prevent sexual harassment at workplace?
- Understand workplace harassment: Obtain and become familiar with the organisation’s policy on sexual harassment. Check if the organisation has an Internal Complaints Committee and who its members are. (Source)
- Don't be a bystander: Take an active stand against sexism. If you see or hear incident of sexual harassment or are subject to an offensive environment, take appropriate steps to resolve the harassment. Hold your friends accountable.
- Examine your verbal and non-verbal behaviour: Do not assume that employees or co-workers enjoy or want to hear risqué jokes or sexually oriented comments about their appearance. Pay attention to the response of others in order to avoid unintentional offense. (Source)
- Confront the harasser/perpetrator: If possible, confront the sexual harasser immediately. Tell him/her that you find that type of attention offensive and that the behavior affects you negatively. Tell the harasser what behaviours (gestures,physical or verbal) you find offensive. (Source)
- Ask for consent: If you like someone from workplace or are friends with them, don’t assume that they will be fine with your behaviour or advances. Seek consent if you want to engage in sexual or non-sexual activity. Consent is an active and verbal ‘yes’ and is an agreement between both the parties.
- Refer to an authority: Seek confidential advice to develop your personal resolution strategy. Consider writing a letter to the harasser and keep a copy for yourself. Document all the incidents of sexual harassment. Be detailed, precise about date, time, location, and person/persons involved. (Source)
- Enlist others: It can be intimidating to approach a situation alone. Enlist another person to support you. Ask someone to come with you to approach the person at risk. (Source)
Prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace requires training programs for both co-workers and employees, which concretely address such topics as the national laws that prohibit sexual harassment, creating workplace policies and steps that individuals can take. You can request the Human Resource Department of your organisation to conduct such trainings and workshops. (Source)
How to respond to accusations of sexual harassment?
If someone says you have sexually harassed them, you should take it seriously. If you don't come three times in a row to hearings your employer has set up, you may not get to speak before a decision is made. Only women are protected from being sexually harassed at their place of work, but sexual harassment can be done by anyone, male or female.
Rights of the Accused
- You cannot be arrested without a warrant
- You have the right to get a copy of the complaint within 7 working days of the complaint being filed
- You have the right to reply. You can submit documents and a list of witnesses within 10 working days of getting the documents from the person who accused you
- You have the right to hire a lawyer, but only from the point when you have to speak to the Complaints Committee
- You have the right to appeal a decision made by the Committee
If the Internal Complaints Committee decides that the sexual harassment claim against you is not true, you will not be punished. But, if they decide the claim is true, the Committee can give your employer options for how you could be punished. (Source: Nyaaya)