Legal

Preventing and Responding To Sexual Harassment

calendar09 May, 2023
timeReading Time: 8 Minutes
Preventing and Responding To Sexual Harassment

A woman’s human and constitutional rights are violated if she is the victim of sexual harassment at work. As a result, women are less likely to participate in the workforce, which has a negative impact on their ability to advance economically and achieve the goal of inclusive growth. It violates the right to equal opportunity and treatment of women in the workplace and is hurtful on an extremely personal level.

India’s legal system has made an effort to protect women from sexual harassment. These statutes have made criminal and civil remedies attainable.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, defines sexual harassment. According to this law, sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual behavior, whether physical, verbal, or nonverbal, that makes working conditions for women intimidating, hostile, or insulting.

Any act of unwelcome sexual contact, requests for sexual Favours, or any other verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature is all included in this law’s definition of sexual harassment. Additionally, it encompasses any conduct that is sexually charged and targeted against women, such as making sexually suggestive comments, viewing pornography, or producing sexually seductive visuals.

The law makes it clear that sexual harassment can occur in any job, including both private and public sectors, hospitals, educational facilities, and other places where women work. Every company with more than 10 workers is required to set up an internal complaints committee (ICC) to handle claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. Any woman who has experienced sexual harassment at work has the right to report it to the ICC.

Vishakha Vs. State of Rajasthan (1997)

The Vishaka case was a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India in 1997 that laid down guidelines to prevent and redress sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

The guidelines, also known as the Vishaka guidelines, were later incorporated into the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013[1].

The Supreme Court issued the following major guidelines in the Vishaka case:

Definition of Sexual Harassment:

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted sexually motivated behaviour (whether expressed explicitly or impliedly), including physical contact, requests for sexual favours, inappropriate comments, the showing of pornography, and other unwanted sexually motivated behaviors.

Employer Responsibilities:

Employers are in charge of stopping and addressing workplace sexual harassment. They should guarantee that women can work in a safe environment and observe that the offenders are dealt with properly.

Internal Complaints Committee:

Every business is obligated to establish an internal complaints committee (ICC) to handle sexual harassment claims. The ICC should have at least two members who are committed to the cause of women’s rights, and a woman should be in charge of the ICC. 

Complaint Procedure:

Women should be able to use the complaint procedure easily. The complaint must be in writing and contain information on the occurrence, the offender, and any witnesses there may have been.

Investigation Procedure:

The ICC must conduct a prompt, unbiased investigation of the complaint. It is important to provide the accused a chance to respond to the accusations.

Action against Perpetrator:

Taking appropriate action against the perpetrator is necessary if the ICC considers the accused guilty of sexual harassment. The course of action could include a warning, reprimand, transfer, or dismissal from the company.

Confidentiality:

The ICC should make sure that the complainant, the defendant, and the witnesses are all treated in confidence.

These rules established in the Vishaka case were a significant step in ensuring that women had a secure and harassment-free workplace.

#MeToo Movement

The #MeToo movement originated in the United States in 2017, with the hashtag #MeToo being used on social media to encourage women to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. The movement quickly spread to other countries, with women from all walks of life sharing their stories and demanding accountability for perpetrators.

In India, it started in October 2018 when Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta accused fellow actor Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her on the sets of a movie in 2008. Her accusations led to a surge of allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against other powerful men in the media, entertainment, and other industries.

The #MeToo movement gained momentum quickly, with many women sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media using the hashtag #MeToo. The movement helped to bring attention to the pervasive nature of sexual harassment and assault in Indian workplaces and highlighted the need for stronger laws and policies to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

However, the movement also faced backlash, with some critics arguing that it was being used to settle personal scores or that it unfairly targeted men without due process. Nonetheless, the movement has been a powerful force for change, shining a light on the issue of sexual harassment and assault in India and empowering victims to speak out and demand justice.

Impact of Harassment at Workplace

The effects of sexual harassment at work can be felt by the victims, their coworkers, and the entire company. The effects can be particularly severe in India, where workplace harassment is a widespread issue.

The following are a few effects of workplace harassment on people and the workplace:

Impact on Emotion and Psychology:

Sexual harassment victims may feel a variety of feelings, such as fear, worry, depression, and shame. Their self-worth, confidence, and work performance may all be impacted by the encounter, which could result in absence or resignation.

Legal Consequences:

Failure on the part of employers to prevent or resolve sexual harassment in the workplace may result in fines, penalties, and reputational harm.

Workplace:

When sexual harassment occurs, it can lead to a hostile workplace that not only impacts the victim but also their coworkers. Productivity, staff morale, and work satisfaction may all suffer as a result.

Financial Impact:

The victim and the employer may both suffer financial consequences as a result of sexual harassment. While the employer may experience financial fines or a loss of business, the victim may incur medical costs or compensation.

Physical Effects:

Victims may experience physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and sleep disruptions, which may have an effect on their general health and wellbeing.

Overall, workplace sexual harassment can have a large and pervasive influence on people and the organization. Employers must take action to stop harassment in the workplace, deal with it, and make the workplace a safe and respected place for all workers.

Responding to Sexual Harassment

Responding to sexual abuse is a difficult and sensitive problem that calls for a caring and encouraging attitude. There are several actions that can be performed if you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence in order to aid in the healing process and hold the offender accountable.

Make An Appointment To Visit A Doctor:

It’s important to make an appointment to see a doctor as soon as possible following a sexual assault in order to ensure that any physical injuries are addressed and to acquire any evidence that may be required for legal proceedings.

Report to the Proper Authorities:

Reporting the incident to the police or other authorities is an essential component in bringing the offender to justice and avoiding further assaults.

Seek Support:

Talking about your experience in a safe environment with friends, family, or a counsellor can aid in the healing process.

Document The Incident:

If at all possible, attempt to provide as much specific information as you can about the incident. Write down every detail you can recall, including the assault’s duration, date, and place as well as any physical injuries you may have suffered.

Take Legal Action If Necessary:

You might want to take legal action against the offender. You can get assistance from an expert lawyer as you proceed.

It’s necessary to keep in mind that everyone’s journey to recovery from sexual abuse is unique and can take time. For victims of sexual assault, there are numerous resources accessible, such as hotlines, support groups, and counselling services. Remember that you are not alone, and that help is available.

Laws Related To Sexual Harassment

There are numerous laws that deal with sexual harassment.

Industrial Employment (Standing Orders)” Act, 1946:

 It is a central statute that, among other things, mandates that an employer lay out and publicise standard terms of employment in the form of standing orders. The terms of employment, such as working hours, pay rates, shift work, attendance policies, and late arrivals, as well as provisions for leaves and holidays, should be included in the standing orders. In the case that an employer has not created and certified its own standing orders, the provisions in the Standing Orders Act’s Model Standing Orders serve as guidance for employers. The Model Standing Orders not only describe “sexual harassment” in accordance with the Vishaka Judgement’s definition, but they also call for the creation of a complaints committee to address accusations of sexual harassment at work. It’s interesting to notice that, according to the Standing Orders Rules, “sexual harassment” does not only apply to women.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013:

  •  This statute offers a definition of workplace sexual harassment as well as a process for filing and handling complaints. Employers are required to create a safe working environment and an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to handle sexual harassment claims.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860:

  •  Sections 354A, 354B, 354C, and 354D of the IPC deal with voyeurism, stalking, acid assaults, and other types of violence against women. They also address sexual harassment.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012:

  • This law identifies several types of sexual abuse and exploitation of children and ensures that children are protected from both.

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of 1986:

  •  This law forbids the indecent representation of women in publications, advertisements, and other forms of media.

The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961:

  •  This law forbids the giving or receiving of dowries, which are an act of violence against women.

With the help of these laws, sexual harassment and other types of violence against women are intended to be prevented and addressed in a variety of contexts, including the workplace, public places, and close relationships.

A Critical Analysis of the Legislative Protection

While India has several laws that address sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women, the implementation and enforcement of these laws have been challenges. Despite the existence of laws, the conviction rates for sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women are relatively low. This can be attributed to several factors, including a lack of evidence, slow judicial processes, and inadequate legal aid for victims.

Sexual harassment is often underreported due to various reasons such as stigma, fear of retaliation, lack of trust in the legal system, and social norms that blame the victim. Many victims do not come forward or do not pursue legal action against their perpetrators, which undermines the effectiveness of the legal framework.

While the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, covers sexual harassment at the workplace, there is no comprehensive law that covers all forms of sexual harassment in public spaces or in personal relationships. This leaves women vulnerable to harassment and limits their ability to seek legal recourse.

There is a lack of awareness among women about their rights and the legal remedies available to them. This makes it difficult for victims to seek help and report instances of sexual harassment.

The implementation of laws against sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women has been inadequate. Many employers do not comply with the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, and there is a lack of accountability for those who violate the law.

Conclusion

In conclusion, India has numerous laws and policies in place to safeguard women from discrimination at work and in public areas. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, which offers a thorough framework for preventing and treating sexual harassment at the workplace, is the most significant of them. The Indian Penal Code also contains laws that address sexual offences such as voyeurism, stalking, and sexual harassment. Though these rules and policies are a positive step, they still need to be effectively applied and enforced. Along with altering mindsets and social norms that support these behaviours, there is also a need for more awareness and education on sexual harassment and abuse. We can only hope to create a culture where women are free from the fear of sexual harassment and abuse through a persistent effort involving all stakeholders, including the government, employers, civil society, and individuals.

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