Saturday, June 7, 2014

Impact of Sexual Harassment on Women

Impact of Sexual Harassment on Women’s Health and Incomes

Leila Sheikh

Sexual harassment at work can have very serious consequences both for the harassed individual as well as for other working women who experience it secondhand. 

The consequences to the individual employee can be many and serious. In some situations, a woman who is undergoing the sexual harassment risks losing her job or the chance for a promotion if she refuses to give in to the sexual demands of someone in authority.

 In other situations, the unwelcome sexual conduct of co-workers makes the working conditions hostile and unpleasant - putting indirect pressure on her to leave the job. Sometimes, the employee is so traumatized by the harassment that she suffers serious emotional and physical consequences—and very often, becomes unable to perform her job properly.

According to a survey conducted by the Tanzania Media Women’s Association TAMWA (Sheikh and Gabba), the majority of sexually harassed women suffer from some debilitating stress reaction, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders and lowered self-esteem. In addition, victims of sexual harassment are put in the stressful position of losing their jobs and incomes which impacts on their health and incomes.

The consequences to working women as a group are no less serious. Sexual harassment has a cumulative, demoralizing effect that discourages women from asserting themselves within the workplace, while among men it reinforces stereotypes of women employees as sex objects.

Severe or pervasive sexual harassment in certain types of businesses creates a hostile or intimidating environment that causes women to leave their jobs and look elsewhere for work or discourages them from seeking those jobs in the first place.

The effect on the morale of all employees can also be serious. Both men and women in a workplace can find their work disrupted by sexual harassment even if they are not directly involved. Sexual harassment can have a demoralizing effect on everyone within range of it, and it often negatively impacts company productivity on the whole.

From the survey, it was learnt that women victims of sexual harassment are not aware that the use of power and authority by male bosses to coerce sex is a crime, not until it becomes indecent assault, that is when the women realize the man has crossed the parameters of good behavior, and even then, less than one per cent report the cases to higher authorities or to law enforcers.

In 1998, the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act (SOSPA 1998) was enacted. It is a commendable Act in a number of respects and it is much wider in scope and application. It also offers victims of sexual offences greater legal protection. The Act is more victim friendly, woman friendly and unlike previous legislation on sex related crimes it is more compassionate towards victims.

For example, prior to SOSPA, only the State could impose Fines against offenders. SOSPA changed that and law courts became empowered to impose Fines against an offender and Compensation to victims of sexual violence as ‘retribution for the harm done to them’ (S.131 (1) (2).

Compensation awards in sex crime cases are revolutionary in that they recognize the real victim in the crime. Moreover, compensation awards are dispensed in conjunction with other punishments including imprisonment, fine and/or corporal punishment.

SOSPA protects the integrity and anonymity of children and women victims of sex crimes in court records and in judicial proceedings by requiring child victims of sexual abuse and women victims of sexual offences to testify in camera.

Victims of sexual harassment not only live with the fear of losing their jobs, possibly their only source of income, they would also be afraid of societal disapproval. Women fear being ostracized. They fear stigma. They fear being isolated from the body politic. And a woman who dares to speak up against sexual harassment becomes not only a professional pariah, but also a social outcast.

However, the  law should take into account, the mental and emotional damage suffered by the victim. It should take into account the damage to dignity, honor and reputation of the victim. The law should also take into account the loss of self-esteem by the victim and therefore, impose a jail penalty on the offender, fines as well as compensation commensurate with the damage suffered.

Since it is left to the discretion of the court, then it is important that Magistrates and Judges show compassion to the victim by giving her a fair hearing and protect the victim’s self-esteem by rebuking defense lawyers of the accused when they cast doubt and aspersions on the victim’s dignity and honor.

The fine imposed currently of 200,000/= Tanzanian Shillings or USD 150 is insignificant. There is room to consider higher fines and awards as well as a mandatory jail sentence.


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