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Stop Harassing Me!

Far from being the truth, sexual harassment is not a “female” problem. As a matter of fact, it is a socio-cultural challenge that continues to adversely affect both men and women, in our communities and workplaces. Likewise, it is not exclusive to heterosexuals, as sexual harassment can also occur between persons of the same sex.

Similarly, a younger individual can sexually-harass older ones, and vice versa, as can women sexually harass men, although in the majority of well-known cases, it is usually females who are sexually harassed by their male counterparts. What is sexual harassment? According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, sexual harassment is defined as “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student)”.

By virtue of this definition, sexual harassment ought not to be exclusively confined to the workplace, as it is more concerned about the power dynamics between individuals. Nevertheless, as our global lives become more virtual, we realize that, separate from employees and workers, other categories of persons who can be subjected to sexual harassment include: (i) contractors (whether they are contractors of service or contractors for service); (ii) consultants; (iii) job applicants; and (iv) members of the public. This is because sexual harassment is also not limited to a space, but again relates to behaviour, specifically unwanted and unsolicited behaviour emanating from one individual and projected onto another.

Therefore, whether intended or not, sexual harassment arises where the dignity of an individual has been violated, due to unwanted behaviour from another person, that is sexual in nature- by words or action. Even where someone’s dignity is not violated per se, but, the unwanted behaviour creates an environment that can be described as “intimidating”, “hostile”, “humiliating”, or “offensive”, it can still be described as sexual harassment, according to the applicable laws of some countries.

While examples of what sexual harassment entails can vary from country to country, it includes inter alia, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment.” Likewise, it should be noted that in some countries, sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behaviour or directed at a specific person since, as the laws of some jurisdictions have stated, “merely making negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual-harassment.”

Clearly, addressing sexual harassment in a definitive, strategic and coherent manner among all stakeholders, particularly employers, employees and employee representatives ought to be given utmost priority, as the longer it lingers, productivity and progress will decline in the interim and long-term. Nevertheless, all is not lost. Acknowledgement of this debilitating effects in the workplace is gaining traction.

Therefore, in tandem with this renewed awakening, our collective knowledge, skills and expertise, I believe that sexual harassment can be significantly curtailed in the workplace. Let’s all collaborate and make it happen!

Keywords: LinkedIn Local Caribbean, sexual harassment, definition, individual, development

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