SUFFERING IN SILENCE

Why sexual harassment often goes unreported

Victims fear the act being trivialised by the organisations they work in

In Summary

• Kenyans still find it hard to report sexual harassment cases that happen in an office setting

• One convicted of sexual harassment charges, one is fined Sh100,000 or sentenced to 3 years in prison or both

Collage of the #MeToo movement
Collage of the #MeToo movement
Image: PEXELS

Despite the #MeToo movement setting sail almost three years ago in various countries, in Kenya, cases revolving around sexual harassment in offices are hardly ever reported.

According to a report by the Employment Law Alliance, more often than not when these cases are reported or concerns raised, they are hushed, especially if a high-profile personality is implicated.

It is not until 2007 that sexual harassment was recognised in employment law. The act defined sexual harassment as requests to an employee for sex, whether directly or indirectly, in exchange for favours or threats, use of language that is sexual, direct or indirect physical behaviour that is sexual in nature or even use of visual material.

 

The act also dictates that any employer with more than 20 employees not only issues them with a policy statement on sexual harassment but also works to make sure it is implemented.

The Kenyan Sexual Offences Act, on the other hand, states that if someone in authority is charged in a sexual harassment case, they should be imprisoned for a term not less than three years or pay a fine amounting to Sh100,000 or both.

With the alleged victim, they are required to prove submission or rejection of the advances would be used as a basis of employment or as a decision relevant to their career, as well as that the sexual advances or requests by the perpetrator have the effect of interfering with the victim’s work or created an offensive working or learning environment for them.

The aspect of consent also plays a pivotal role in the sexual harassment case. Thus, it is important to understand whether the alleged victims welcomed the advances by the perpetrators.

Although it is a wide demographic of people who go through sexual harassment, most victims are scared to report it because of fear of the act being trivialised by the organisations they work in, which could result in hostility towards the victim in question.

Similarly, in the case where a woman works in a male-dominated industry, subjugation by their male counterparts may come to play since the men might want to show their masculinity, hence working towards making the women feel lesser than them. Women, on the other hand, find themselves allowing sexual harassment tendencies so as to try to fit in with the male staff.

In addition, other people have refused to report such cases even after witnessing it firsthand with the notion that someone else will be brave enough to report it.