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Changing the way we treat, view and speak about sexual harassment

 

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There seems to have been a lot of talk in the media recently regarding the inadequacies in our laws regarding sexual harassment and the protection of those who have been affected.

So much so that I felt compelled to write about it and see if I can do my part.

Yet, I think I wanted to change the overall tone of the conversation a bit. Please note that nowhere in my writing will I use the word victim, nor will I use any other words which carry a similarly derogatory connotation, because I think it does all women a disservice to marginalize them for acting which arguably takes a lot more strength than mere acceptance.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted conduct by a coworker, supervisor or any other third party. It includes demands for sexual favours, unwelcome sexual advances, jokes or comments or any other acts or comments of a sexual nature.

Aside from the act itself, it also includes any action which creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or involves any action in relation to the individual’s employment status or sexual orientation.

Contrary to popular belief, it does not primarily relate to solicitations for sexual favours or unwanted advances, but can also refer to behaviour which can be deemed offensive or detrimental to the individual. Neither does it absolve the perpetrator if the intention was non-sexual nor if they are both of the same sex. The overriding factor lies with the act itself and its impact on the other person.

One important change we hope to see included would be the inclusion of legislation with regards to online harassment to include items/comments sent to and posted about the target using electronic means.

This also includes the viewing, downloading, printing or distribution of inappropriate materials which another person would find offensive and includes allowing another person to view explicit materials at the workstation.

Another new mode of harassment has also emerged in the form of online sexual violence which includes aggravation using social media and /or any other form of communication technology. This can include spreading rumors online, sending damaging messages, photos and videos, impersonations, etc. for the purpose of causing damage to a person’s reputation and/or mental health.

It also includes the publishing of intimate images without the target’s consent and may reflect the person to be nude or exposing genitalia. This includes materials, both intended and not intended as revenge porn.

This can take several forms:

  • Cyber Harassment & Cyber Stalking – Monitoring or disrupting online communications, making threats, stealing personal information or spreading false accusations.
  • Distribution of sexual recordings, images or messages without consent in order to harass or shame the targeted individual.
  • Luring minors for the purpose of committing an offense.

Cyber Harassment comes in several forms:

  • Releasing humiliating or embarrassing information on social media or via electronic communication.
  • Isolating the target using their family, friends, employer etc.
  • Monitoring the target’s activities for the purpose of causing them harm or defamation.
  • Use of scare tactics or threats.

The perpetrator’s actions usually include false accusations, gathering information by interacting with friends and family and encouraging others to harass the target. It is also worth noting, that the most commonly given excuse by the perpetrator is to claim that the target was harassing them.

An important factor worth mentioning is that once images or other media is shared over digital devices, and it includes the sharing of negative, harmful or false content, the result is permanent and can have far reaching consequences for the remainder of the person’s life affecting not only their ability to enter into future romantic relationships as well as impact their future employment opportunities. Not to mention if they have children or family members who can easily view the now public information.

A common line of defense here by the perpetrator is that they believed that the information was true and innocently reproduced without them knowing any better.

Other important issues relate to minors and cyber-bullying since this is becoming more prevalent in our secondary schools. Unfortunately, though, the problem when dealing with minors remains the issue of their ability to comprehend the full ramifications of their actions and consequently the extent of the punishment which should be granted. Most experts definitely agree though that it should be sufficient to impress on them the potentially damaging effects of their actions.

Trolling has also become more prevalent within the online community. It involves making random, unsolicited and/or controversial comments on an internet forum intending to elicit a reaction from others in order to engage in a fight or argument.

It’s important though to distinguish everyday sexism which includes discourse that can be considered as non-offensive, the distinguishing factor should therefore be the content, pervasiveness, impact and potential future damages.

Presently, in most cases, assistance from the internet company is severely limited and the authorities are currently ill-equipped to handle these situations under the current legislation.

I think it’s also very important to allow the individual that has been affected some measure of dignity.

It’s very important that we encourage all women to stand together and support each other whenever these things happen.

 

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  • Rob Siltaren

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