Sexual harassment at work or school-what it is and how to deal with it.

Choma, did you know that a lot of sexual harassment is experienced at work or school- especially when a person in authority harasses their subordinate (someone who is under their authority or control). Sexual harassment can also occur between students, colleagues and peers in general.

Here’s more information on what harassment looks like, and what to do if it’s happening to you.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. Meaning you did not give consent. It can include inappropriate comments, touching, sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and other verbal, physical or visual behaviour that is inappropriate.

Harassment at school

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is common in South African schools by other students or peers and even sometimes by teachers. Many students fear going to school due to the harassment they experience. It is also a prevailing problem since many victims do not report the abuse out of fear or embarrassment.

Sexual harassment in schools can involve a person of authority (such as a teacher, lecturer or staff member) taking advantage of their position to get something out of a student. For example, if a teacher promises to give you a good grade in exchange for a sexual favour, that is a form of harassment. If you are under 16 years of age, it can be a criminal offense as well. If someone threatens, harasses or makes you feel uncomfortable, you must say no regardless of their position or who they are.

Harassment is not always done by a teacher or staff member- it can be done by a student as well. Sexual harassment can take the form of bullying someone if the bullying has sexual undertones. Examples of this would be spreading rumours about someone’s sexuality or sharing sexually explicit photos/videos of that person, or cyber bullying on social media.

Sexual harassment is different from joking around or flirting – it is unwanted, inappropriate, harmful and it creates an embarrassing, scary, humiliating environment that can affect your ability to live a normal life.

Harassment at work

Harassment in the workplace is also quite common, and can include unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words and comments that are sexual in nature.

In some cases, it can involve a supervisor or boss demanding that employees tolerate the harassment in order to keep a job or for job benefits such as promotions and raises.

What to do

Here are some steps you can take if you’ve been the victim of harassment at school or in the workplace:

1. Don’t blame yourself. You never deserve to be harassed at the place you are studying or working. Remember that the harasser is the one in the wrong.

2. Make yourself clear. Be firm when telling the person that their behaviour makes you feel uncomfortable.

3. Keep track of the harassment. Write down your experiences – be sure to add in the date, location of the incident and any potential witnesses. If you have reported the harassment, be sure to write that down too (who you spoke with, etc.).

If the harassment has taken place online, be sure to archive screenshots of the incident as it may get deleted.

4. Report the Harassment. Let a trusted family member or friend know what is going on and when you feel comfortable, report the issue to the proper authority. If this is happening at school, you can report it to a principal or another person of high authority and if this is happening at work, you can contact Human Resources at the company you’re working for.

If the issue is still not resolved, you can also report the issue to the police or a human rights commission such as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

If you are a victim of sexual harassment in school or at work, you should speak up Choma. You could be helping others avoid the harassment you’ve experienced. Always remember your rights and make your voice heard.

Remember, if you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).