Gestures, Loaded Words Offer Wriggle Room for Tormentors

Harassers far more subtle; Clever and careful enough to avoid getting caught

Published: 18th August 2015 03:55 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th August 2015 03:55 AM   |  A+A-


All of 22 years, Disha* had just begun her investment banking career. It was to be a stepping stone to even bigger things to come, but little did she anticipate that something would trip her on the way. It began when she was assigned to work under a senior employee of the organisation, who would be playing mentor. The man, nearly twice her age, became too friendly for comfort and began offering her unsolicited help and advice. As weeks passed, it shifted to a more aggressive level of mind games. Cleverly crafted and subtle, the hints were clear. He demanded sex, an extra-marital affair with her. What began as a nagging feeling for Disha turned out to be workplace harassment. But what could she do without evidence? She shot him down with a loud and clear ‘No’, which only led to further advances from him. “Finally, I took up the issue with the manager who didn’t even know what to do about it,” she recounts. But, when taken to the HR, it was dealt with in time. It even paved way for the management to take up sensitising the manager on workplace harassment.

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“Only if there’s any physical act or documented proof like messages or mails would people tag it to be sexual harassment. But, harassers are far more subtle these days. They are careful enough to evade being caught and always play on hints and coated statements,” says Disha, who though having managed to ward off her superior, tends to draw the ire of other employees.

“A lot of my colleagues have terrible opinions of me after the incident. One of them even told me that I seemed like a really cold person,” she recalled. Sexual harassment has insidious ways of permeating work life. Stigma tops the list. “There is a victim blaming mentality. It’s always projected as someone’s fault that they got hit on or harassed. A woman’s clothes, behaviour, habits come into scrutiny and colour people’s judgement. This gravely discourages one from taking necessary action against the harasser,” says Rishika J, a consulting psychologist.

This stigma stays long after the incident, and is more often than not the reason for many women not taking up a case of harassment.

Last year alone saw 526 registered cases of harassment, but could very well be a fragment of the real figure. Also, it is not just the women who face such harassment.

Jai* who interned recently at a large private hospital in the city faced a similar experience that he recounts under the veil of anonymity for fear of the same stigma. A male hospital staff had asked him bluntly for sexual favors during work hours, causing him to flee the place. Although it proved to be the next office gossip, the matter hardly ended there. It was chosen to be not dealt with. “By shrugging off or bottling up these incidences for fear of judgement, we are encouraging perpetrators of sexual harassment,” warns Rishika.

 (*Names changed upon request)


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