... what we need to learn from it ...
As the civilized society looked forward eagerly to know what kind of verdict will be pronounced in the trial of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, on February 24, the jury, after five days of deliberation, has found Weinstein guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and third-degree rape. He is, however, acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault charges which would have resulted in life-time imprisonment.
Nevertheless, the verdict is a victory for the Me Too Movement. For, it sends a powerful warning to sexual harassers, workplace bullies and people in high-powered positions that they are not beyond the reach of law. It also sends an encouraging signal to the victims of sexual assault and harassment at the workplaces, for the present verdict is largely based on victim’s testimony without forensic or physical evidence.
Obviously, the credit goes to those brave victims who have come forward to speak up about their harrowing encounters with the accused in the face of ridicule and public exposure and boldly stood up to the cross-examinations that witnessed the most devastating confrontations &ndash ;all in the interest of obtaining justice.
All along it is believed that in sexual assault cases, the odds are stacked heavily against accusers, for the defense commonly used by the accused, especially those in the positions of power over the victims is that the relationship and sex acts were consensual. Over it, the charges being framed based on events occurred years ago, it becomes more difficult for the prosecution to prove. So, quite often they depend on the credibility of the accuser. As a result, juries and public are often found siding with the abuser. But with the current verdict the scenario may change: victims are likely to be encouraged to fight against sexual assaults at the workplaces. Coupled with the current wave of Me Too Movement, it is hoped to bring in more systemic change at workplaces.
There is of course a downside to it: Many men are scary and feeling uncomfortable fearing that they are vulnerable for false accusations. Secondly, enforcement of rules alone cannot prevent sexual abuse. On the other hand, an atmosphere of suspicion and fear at workplaces is more likely to hamper productivity. The ultimate answer to the problem squarely rests on the leaders: they are not only required to refrain themselves from bad behavior, but more importantly are required to create a healthier culture in the organizations that they head so that female employees get emboldened to speak up.
Here it is necessary to take note of the findings of a recent survey carried out by the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI). The report states that “70% of respondents who had approached an internal committee to report sexual harassment at the workplace were not completely satisfied with the outcome.” It also revealed that 36% of respondents reported having experienced sexual harassment at the workplaces. And the most common kinds of harassments experienced are: sexiest comments, unwelcome sexual jokes, embarrassing gestures or body language, attempts to establish unwanted romantic and/or sexual relationships, and pestering for dates. All this obviously calls for the leadership to initiate awareness programmes bring about a change in culture of the organizations.
To better appreciate this need and the urgency thereof, let us first examine why sexual harassment persists at workplaces. Michael Kimmel, professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University, cites three factors for its persistence: one, the sense of entitlement that some men feel toward the women they work with; two, that women won’t report it or fight back; and three, the complicit assent. Here by complicit assent, we mean the tacit support extended by the fellow male workers by simply remaining silent and not letting the perpetrators of sexual abuse know that their behaviour is not acceptable.
Encouragingly, women are now coming out and speaking loudly about the sexual harassment and are even fighting against it. Now, it is time for the men to shun their silence and come out calling a spade a spade. But then the fundamental question here is: Why at all men remain silent over such bad behaviour? The sociologists answer is: one, it is not uncommon for men to feel afraid of getting marginalized &ndash ; kicked out of the men’s club; and two, afraid of the costs of doing right things at the workplace and hence they abandon their ethics and, in the process, betray their women colleagues but of course, remain uncomfortable.
Now, the question is how to come out of this shame called ‘silence’. One way is to stir up sensibilities of the like-minded people in the organization and in association with other colleagues raising voice against the mis-behaviour of the bullies &ndash ;be they powerful or ordinary. This is sure to open space for others to chip in and stop such bad behaviour in offices.
As more and more women are joining workforce in Gig economy, men should become allies of women in arresting indecent behaviour at workplaces. And in this context, it is needless to stress the role of leaders in fostering a strong culture of teamwork and camaraderie in organizations so that employees feel encouraged to raise their voices against indecent behaviour in the offices. This in turn shall not only ensure equality at workplaces but also productivity.