Sex pests should be outed quickly

The recent comeuppance for sex pests in the United States and Britain highlights deep-rooted predatory practices that are common in many places of employment across the globe. Here, a 2008 study by the Association of Women for Action and Research showed that 54 per cent of those surveyed had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment. It would be an indictment of society if those in authority are indeed looking the other way, rather than confronting the reality of the harm being suffered by employees. Whatever their gender, all workers are entitled to go to work without fearing unwanted lewd comments, glancing physical contact, sexual approaches, molestation or something worse.

The threat of profound emotional harm or physical violation is not something to be brushed under the carpet, perhaps because the perpetrator holds a senior position or makes significant contributions to the company. Some human resource managers might rationalise inaction by referring to the risk of unfavourable publicity, the difficulty of getting compelling evidence, or the possibility of incurring the wrath of business owners. When the predator happens to be the boss, victims might think they have little recourse, especially when told that dismissal is possible if they don’t accede to indecent proposals.

It is telling that many sex pests can get away with misconduct for years. In the case of actor Kevin Spacey, allegations that have surfaced involve unacceptable behaviour involving other men which had occurred decades ago. No one should have to suffer in silence for so long simply because organisations are not prepared to have such matters aired openly.

Explicitly addressing the possibility of such misconduct and specifying rules and the consequences of any breach are warranted because of the emotional damage, physical effects and psychological trauma that victims might bear.

Importantly, those harassed must share their experiences with co-workers, instead of keeping their angst to themselves. If shame and embarrassment deter victims from speaking out, they will miss a possible opportunity of corroborating each other’s accounts and thus halting misconduct at a workplace. In extreme cases, individuals should seek advice on getting protection orders under the Protection from Harassment Act.

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