· Definition of Sexual Harassment
· Categories of Sexual Harassment behaviors
· Types of Sexual Harassment
· Prevalence of Sexual Harassment
· Adverse effects of Sexual Harassment
Definition of Sexual Harassment.
Sexual harassment (SH) is not easy to define, partly because it does not involve a homogenous set of behaviors. The concept of sexual harassment has been defined in various ways.
Sexual harassment may come as unwelcome sexual advances which may be verbal (such as sexually suggestive comments, pestering as well as the request for a date or sex) and non-verbal conduct (gestures or unwanted physical contact including leering looks, touching).It involves unwelcome advances, request for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which is used as the basis for employing or awarding academic marks to an individual depending on whether the individual accepts or rejects those advances, or creates a hostile environment for learning. Unwelcome sexually determined behavior may include physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. It may also include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment. Unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship with differential power dynamic can also be factored in as part of its definition.
It is important to note that definitions in this subject are broad but three main components remain vital; unwelcome, sexual in nature, physical or verbal coupled with power imbalance at times.
Categories of Sexual Harassment behaviors
Sexual Harassment is composed of three categories of behaviors:
1. Gender harassment which includes verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status about members of one gender.
2. Unwanted sexual attention which includes verbal or physical unwelcome sexual advances, which can include assault.
3. Sexual coercion which occurs when favorable professional or educational treatment is conditioned on sexual activity.
Other professionals have further described about 5 categories.
a. Gender harassment (general sexist or offensive remarks and jokes)
b. Seductive behavior (inappropriate flirting and sexual advances without the threat of sanctions).
c. Sexual bribery (reward for sexual activity).
d. Sexual coercion (the conditions of education contingent upon sexual cooperation)
e. Sexual imposition (assault).
Gender harassment and seductive behavior were described as relatively ambiguous behaviors. Sexual bribery, sexual coercion, and sexual imposition were described as less ambiguous and entailed degrees of both quid pro quo and a hostile environment. While it is usually easy to spotless ambiguous forms of sexual harassment, difficulty exists in defining the more ambiguous forms, especially gender harassment which is by far the most prevalent type of sexual harassment.
The foregoing describes the behaviors in sexual harassment, some are considered ambiguous like gender harassment while others are less so, like a sexual imposition. But all these behaviors have a tendency to cause harm.
Types of Sexual Harassment
There are two main types of sexual harassment
: quid pro quo harassment which is typically exchanging sex for benefits (usually performance or academic favors) or to avoid some detriment (demotion at work or academic failure) and a hostile environment (when speech or conduct creates an intimidating or humiliating environment that negatively affects an individual's academic or job performance.
Prevalence of Sexual Harassment
Prevalence is high both globally and nationally. In Nigeria, the prevalence is between 68 and 99%. It has been suggested that SH in education is higher in countries with weak educational systems, low levels of accountability, high levels of poverty, gender inequality. Sexual harassment is prevalent in our schools, both secondary and tertiary institutions. And it leads to untold harm. Both victims and perpetrators can be lecturers, students, administrative staff and any gender, although there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that more women experience sexual harassment and men are more likely to be perpetrators.
Adverse effects of Sexual Harassment
There are a number of adverse effects that have been associated with SH. Research suggests that sexual harassment is associated with suboptimal academic fulfillment which includes:
· Changing courses or advisors
· Leaving school entirely
Psychological distress with symptoms of;
· Stress and anxiety,
· Lowered self-esteem and
· Generally impaired psychological well-being
Physical health issues may include headaches, exhaustion, sleep problems, gastric problems, nausea, respiratory complaints, musculoskeletal pain, weight loss, or gain.
Research suggests quite a number of students have had to change courses or even schools as a result of sexual harassment. The trauma lives with them, especially because a lot of people are not allowed to tell their stories and heal. It is known that because of the complexity of sexual harassment, the timing, duration and severity of these effects will vary depending on individuals affected. Adverse effects are found with gender harassment (most common) as well as unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion. Sexual harassment in schools is grossly underreported. In part, this is due to the unequal power relations that often exists in educational institution. Survivors cope with sexual harassment in many ways. They ignore or appease the harasser or they seek social support. Survivors rarely report the SH experience. This is often because they are afraid of loss of status, marks, or job as retaliation and the attendant stigma that it brings.
Conclusively, sexual harassment is important to our mental health because: even ambiguous types like gender harassment can lead to adverse sequelae in vulnerable individuals. There is no time limitation on these adverse effects as sexual harassment is traumatic and we know that trauma changes the brain in many ways. It is important to seek help if you have experienced SH. It may not be enough to say that you have dealt with it in your mind. That trauma can act as a trigger down the line if it is not well navigated.
Q: There are people who do not dress provocatively yet are harassed, so does the dressing really count, or is it rather the learned behavior of sexual harassment that is the problem?
A: It is a learned behavior that is culturally sanctioned. The difficulty though is that we believe it so much that it affects the services available to survivors. It also hampers us in planning prevention services because bad behavior is reinforced by such beliefs. A lot of people believe that people who are not decently dressed put themselves at risk of SH but this is untrue. Unfortunately, a lot of anti-sexual harassment policies have indecent dressing as a cause of sexual harassment. This rhetoric is quite harmful to everyone because it passes the wrong message.
The other issue with sexual harassment is that people hardly report it. The average survivor will try and deal with it and forget it. The danger in that is that sexual harassment is trauma and needs to be dealt with. If not, it could lead to a number of problems outlined above much later. It is important to spread the word, not just for reportage but also for speaking up to get the help that they need.
Poor reporting of Sexual harassment also empowers the perpetrators to continue unchecked and without fear of consequences.
Q: So, how do we then change the mindset of the average man/woman on the streets about Sexual harassment?
A: We can speak up against gender harassment which is quite common. We can give information on what sexual harassment is and why it is dangerous to health. The truth is that a number of perpetrators do it because they have seen it modeled to them and they do not know that it causes so much harm which is quite sad, but we can change the narrative by giving agency to survivors. It is not just about nailing the perpetrator; it is even more about healing.
Also, there has to be some communal self-forgiving exercise because a number of possible allies today committed the act yesterday
Q: Does That mean in some cases the perpetrators may also have to be treated as victims?
A: No. That you do not know that what you are doing is harmful does not excuse you from the crime committed but, in raising awareness, some perpetrators can change because they realize that their behavior is harmful.
Q: What can students do to help themselves?
A: Students can make plans to safeguard themselves in secondary school by always having a friend with them, by talking to their parents (of course the parents need to be targeted with information), and reporting to people that will help them. There is usually a least one person in any given school who will know how to navigate without making things worse.
Q: What can schools do to reduce SH within their campuses?
A: The schools can create a no tolerance to SH policy. A lot of schools have this though and SH is still rampant. It is not enough to write the policy implementation must be comprehensive. An open environment where perpetrators are dealt with speedily will encourage survivors to step out of the shadows and speak up.
Schools also need to do better in terms of evidence gathering. A lot of the time, the burden of proof is put on the survivor and this is wrong. You can imagine asking a 12year old to bring evidence instead of putting the alleged perpetrator on some surveillance and asking other students to see if there is any substance to the alleged offense. The schools need to do better in working with survivors and not just thinking about their image.
Q: Can we say indecent dressing increases the risk for sexual harassment?
A: For sexual harassment, No! And I will try to explain why. The rationale for indecent dressing being a factor in SH is that some men are moved by sight and thus not able to control their emotions or actions under some circumstances, this is learned, however. What is decent for one person may be indecent for another, so who defines decency? Why do we say that indecent dressing is a factor for girls but not for boys? I think Indecent dressing is a concept that is promoted by the patriarchal majority as an excuse for poor behavior.
Q: How do we protect survivors yet still protect the accused from false accusations?
A: A lot of cases that are tagged false are not actually false but they are unable to get enough evidence. A lot of people talk about fake reports but they are extremely rare. At least let us start by believing, then depending on the situation, work with the survivor or on our own to find out more instead of leaving the burden of evidence to the survivor.
Q: There is a misconception that only females are harassed but males can be harassed as well, can’t they?
A: Males are harassed too. They report even less. The survivors and perpetrators of sexual harassment can be any gender.