BY YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE
Sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, is a topic that triggers deep emotions and is usually difficult to talk about but it is actually an important conversation that is necessary because it affects so many people. Also, it is said that sexual harassment at work is a massive problem in Nigeria because many men still believe that telling dirty jokes and invading personal space is a normal thing.
Daily, thousands of women, even men, though in smaller figures, get harassed sexually by coworkers, employers, superiors and sometimes, surbodinates and have been forced to live with it because people do not see anything wrong in some acts that even the law has classified as harassment, and consequently, such acts have become entrenched in the work culture of many organisations in the name of being friendly or cracking jokes; this remains unacceptable even in the face of the laws especially the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law (VAPP) which lists in clear terms that even some jokes are sexual harassments.
Sexual harassment in the workplace has been defined as any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which makes you feel offended, uncomfortable, intimidated, or humiliated and can be as little as a touch or conversation and there are different types of harassment.
Offensive working environment: This is when you receive unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature like indecent remarks, comments about appearance, body or clothes, questions or comments about your sex staring at a person’s body or display of sexually explicit material in shared workspaces or sending and sharing sexually explicit material via email.
Quid pro quo: This is when your submission to a sexual act or sexual advances is seen as a condition for either getting a job, a promotion, or any other benefit in your job with you would normally have been entitled to, and should be based on merit.
Physical abuse: This is when there is direct physical contact with you including any unwarranted touching, brushing their body or any object against yours, hugging, caressing, kissing, sexual assault, and rape.
Dealing with sexual harassment:
Confront: Inform the person that you find the action or words offensive and you would like them to stop because the person harassing you might not know their act is offensive.
Put on record: If the person refuses to stop after you confront them, begin to build a case by gathering evidence and ensure that you are able to back up any allegations you make when you report the person. Collect as much detailed evidence as possible and document the effect it had on you in specific terms.
Report: Follow organisational guidelines and make official reports with the proofs that you have gathered.
And because in Nigeria, few companies are well organised and the harasser is likely the supervisor or there is no laid down guidelines of handling such cases, you may have to quit or resort to using the law.
The law; criminal law or civil law options are available to tackle such cases because sexual harassment is a crime in Nigeria. And if you are forced to resign or you resign on your own because the harassment or victimisation continues after you report in the workplace, you can sue the company and the staff involved for the harassment or constructive dismissal at the National Industrial Court. Constructive dismissal refers to a situation where you are forced to resign because they made the office environment intolerable for you.
But if you are sexually assaulted or raped, ignore all steps listed and report the matter to the authorities so that the person does not get an opportunity to do it to someone else.