Sometimes it starts with a simple joke with sexist undertones, which soon escalates to bullying and then physical violence or sexual assault. According to Psychology Today, sexual assault is more about power than it is about sex. The touch may be sexual, the words seductive or intimidating, and the violation physical, when someone rapes, assaults, or harasses, the motivation, however, stems from the perpetrator’s need for dominance and control.
Abuse of power (especially in the workplace), often manifests itself through unwelcome touching, sexually suggestive comments, unwanted invitations for sex, insults of a sexual nature; creating a hostile work environment for the victim, who often feels intimidated and humiliated.
How Your Workplace Deals With Sexual Assault Cases Matters
“I have been sexually abused and bullied by a male colleague. The bullying took place over four years. He was condescending and he would belittle me in meetings, I recorded everything and when I was livid, I reported it to my manager. The managers ignored it because they liked him. I went to the CEO and he is the one who assisted me and dealt with the case,” says Mariana, a Sales Manager at a reputable corporate.
Mariana continued: “I’ve also been sexually abused by another male colleague when he realised that I date women. He would come to my office and show me his genitals and say the most absurd things. I reported the matter to the same CEO because my managers wouldn’t take me seriously when I took matters to them. The CEO provided me with emotional support and when the matter was dealt with, he asked me if I want him fired, I just said he needs to apologise and respect me.”
Most women who come forward with cases of workplace sexual assault are terrified, as the perpetrator is often their senior or manager.
Explains Neo Motshegare, Labour Law Expert and Director at Motshegare Attorneys: “In an employment relationship, there are obligations and duties on the part of the employer and the employee. One of the important duties is for the employer to ensure that they provide a safe working environment. In light of sexual harassment, an employer is required to ensure that the environment is free from harassment. A victim of violence/ sexual violence must approach Human Resources and ask them to deal with this complaint in a private and confidential manner because the victim might face victimisation from the perpetrator. Once this discussion has taken place, the victim must go back and type a grievance, relay what has happened. They must not do it orally.”
Motshegare adds that Section 6 of the Employment Equity Act of 1998 deals with the prohibition of unfair discrimination and it states that no person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against an employee in one or more grounds including race, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, gender, ethnicity or social origin, family responsibility, color, age disability, HIV status, culture or any other arbitrary grounds.
“At the end of the processes, if the complainant feels that the employer did not deal with this matter to their satisfaction, or is aggrieved by the outcomes, they have a period of 6 months to refer the matter to the CCMA. The first step will be a reconciliation process where the victim will refer the complaint against the employer because they are the ones who bare the responsibility to ensure a safe working environment. It the employer that must answer as to why they handled the case in that manner,” says Motshegare.
It is therefore important for organisations to acknowledge when gender-based violence in a place of work occurs and take decisive action protocols to address this.
Says the director of Southall Black Sisters and founding member of Women Against Fundamentalism Pragna Patel: “The problem is not women coming forward but how institutions respond to that and we still have a long way to go in terms of ensuring there are the resources, including women’s organisations that can effectively support women through quite traumatic experiences.”
As published by Huffpost