Gender Based Violence News

Sexual harassment looms large in the office

The majority of sexual harrassment incidents aren't reported in the workplace.
A sexual harrassment victim describes how her boss constantly asked her out. (Photo: Freepik)
Written by Nompilo Gwala

The majority of sexual harassment incidents aren’t reported in the workplace because victims fear management won’t do anything about it. A survivor shares her experience, one that at least had a satisfying conclusion.

*Mandisa Ngobeni, a creative writer, said she was still an intern when she experience sexual harassment for the first time. 

“I was an intern in a media publishing company and worked as a writer. It was my first big job that was in line with my career goals and qualifications. I was nervous, excited and wanted to make a good impression. I had a short-term contract, three months to be exact. However, my contract was extended,” said Ngobeni.

Beyond uncomfortable

“My employer approached me during my lunch break at the cafeteria and he offered to pay. I declined his offer. He proceeded to ask me out and I refused. After my lunch break, he approached me at my desk, in front of everyone, and told me that he likes me and he is going to have me. I was shocked and froze as everyone looked at me,” said Ngobeni.

Lauren Salt, an executive in the employment department at ENSAfrica, said that employees should proactively keep a record of any retaliation metered out by their employer or the perpetrator. This conduct should be reported through the appropriate internal channels (such as a grievance procedure) and if the issue remainsunresolved, employees can refer a claim of unfair discrimination to the CCMA.

A Columinate survey reports that 15% of those who have experienced harassment reported that it was verbal in nature and 38% admitted that it turned physical with unwanted touching,. A further 42% reported lustful staring at body parts and 32% reported receiving messages of a sexual nature.

Ngobeni said that her employer started sending emails and it felt like he was following her everywhere. She became paranoid and she finally reported the incidents to her manager.

Incidents finally reported

“My boss started contacting me through email. I started to see him everywhere around the building, I just didn’t feel safe anymore. I didn’t reply to any of his emails. This man was determined to ‘have me’ and it just got to the point where I didn’t feel safe,” said Ngobeni.

“I finally reached out to my manager and I explained everything to her. She was second in command in the company so I knew if I had her on my side maybe I would feel safe. She told me to forward all the emails and told me she would sort it out,” said Ngobeni.

‘Document all details’

Salt said that victims of sexual harassment should document the details of the harassment, much like a diary entry. She also added that a case of sexual harassment should not affect your employment. It is an employer’s obligation under the Employment Equity Act to protect employees from any victimization and bullying in the workplace.

“Where possible, victims of sexual harassment should record the date and time of the sexual harassment, what happened, who was present. If the harassment takes the form of text messages or emails, ensure that those texts or emails are kept. Consider taking a screenshot and printing them,” said Salt. 

Majority of incidents not reported

Only 29% of women report sexual harassment because they did not believe management would do anything about it while 10% feared retaliation if they reported the matter. According to the Employment Equity Act, 1998, an employer is obliged to consult all relevant parties and must take the necessary steps to eliminate the alleged conduct. 

The Equity Employment Act defines sexual harassment as the unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. Most of the time the victims of sexual harassment are women. According to the Columinate survey, 26% of women have reported that a boss or superior is the source of the harassment.

One step too far

“On the day of the office Christmas party, I stayed in the office a little late because I had a project I had to finish that day. After finishing, I got into the lift and as the doors were closing, a hand stopped the doors from closing, and in jumped by employer,” said Ngobeni.

She continued: “He smiled at me and greeted, I responded. He proceeded to brush my face and told me I had beautiful eyes. I said thank you and my eyes got teary because I was scared. I couldn’t have a bad attitude because he was my boss. As the lift doors opened, he held my hand and told me not to be scared of him. I tried to yank my hand out but his grip was hard so I opted to bite him and ran out the lift like a crazy person. I reported this incident directly to HR and hardly anything was done, I ended up quitting.”

Sexual harassment still remains a big problem in the office and a lot of work needs to be done to help women on a daily basis. – Health-e News 


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Nompilo Gwala

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