How do sexual harassment perpetrators operate?
There are many different patterns, but commonly-recognised patterns are operating in the open as bullies, or in secret, behind closed doors.
Bullies: Sometimes sexual harassers are very blunt and outspoken, and will use jokes, pictures, or sexual anecdotes quite openly to embarrass or intimidate their victims. They may touch or stroke a colleague or employee in an inappropriate way, but turn it into a joke so that the victim feels silly or shy to report the incident. They may circulate lewd sexual emails, in the full knowledge that such content could be embarrassing and upsetting. They may pass comments on a person’s figure, including their breasts or buttocks, in a loud and disrespectful way.
In secret: Others operate on the quiet. Their methods may include manipulating one-on-one situations behind closed doors, where a staff member may be asked for sex in exchange for a salary raise or promotion. There may also be threats of violence if the victim does not go along with such requests. It also includes sending private emails or messages of a sexual nature. It can also include being repeatedly invited out on a date, when one has constantly refused.
Why does sexual harassment occur?
The roots of sexual harassment lie in the abuse of power. Women are much more likely to be victims of sexual harassment precisely because they, more often than men, lack power, are in more vulnerable and insecure positions, lack self confidence, or have been socialised to suffer in silence. There are suggestions that male hostility toward women in the workplace is closely connected to male attitudes about the “proper” role of a man in society (ie being a “good provider”). When men feel threatened by women in the workplace, they see it as a threat to this traditional role.
In some societies, sexual harassment of women is directly linked to their social position in general. If women are regarded as second-class citizens, or as sexual objects, if their contributions are not seen as worthwhile, and if they are relegated to rigid roles such as wives, mothers and lowly-paid workers, then the incidence of sexual harassment becomes higher.
Sexual harassment is also a form of discrimination. If a person is singled out on the basis of their sex, and if their performance and progress in the workplace is held back or even destroyed due to sexual harassment, this counts as discrimination.
To put it simply: sexual harassment has been and is used as a tool to perpetuate the subordination of women. Although men can also be harassed, the majority of victims are women. It is, in most cases, a means by which men assert power over women through the threat of or acts of violence, the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, and economic control.
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