Mr. Ade is the manager of a team of about 25 people.
One day, HR informed him of an addition to his team in the person of Ms. Alice. She was fresh from the labour market and was eager to prove herself in the organization.
A few months after she had settled in her role, she was to supervise the XYZ project. After her first private presentation with Mr. Ade, he was very impressed by her definition of the scope of the project and the details she planned to put into it. He applauded her creativity in his closing remarks, then stood to shake her hand with his right hand, and simultaneously stretched the other hand to pull her cheek.
‘Oh no,’ exclaimed Ms. Alice in her mind. She left his office deflated and wondering what to do – the next time it happens. He repeated it a few weeks later. This time, Ms. Alice spoke up and politely told him she was not comfortable with the gesture. Mr. Ade replied, ‘Oh come off it, that’s not a big deal.’
Many times people do things without thinking much about them. They term their actions as no big deal or put it in the field of ‘it doesn’t matter.’ So often, we see persons accused of sexual harassment claiming ignorance of their offense. The litany of excuses includes, it was just a slight touch, I simply winked at him, I only called her babe, and so on. Hence, for many offenders, harassment is committed as a sin of omission. Although there are many well-intended Mr. Ades in the workplace and other social spaces, so also, many ill-intended Mr. Ades are pretending not to know the weight of their actions.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is illegal in most countries and the law does not exonerate the harasser whether he or she is ignorant or not. Words and actions used might mean nothing to the harasser but they would mean a lot to the victim (receiver). Sexual harassment is an unsolicited, unwanted sexual cue that affects the dignity of the receiver. The Criminal Law of Lagos State describes sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Hence, intentions would not absolve the harasser as long as the receiver feels harassed. When relating with people, we must stay in the arena of ‘safe, polite, officious, or modest’.
Forms of Sexual Harassment and examples
There are three broad forms of sexual harassment; physical, verbal, and non-verbal.
Harassers often tag most of the examples below as no big deals. Nigerians would say, ‘Ko mean’, meaning it does not mean anything or it does not matter or it should not count as such. They assume sexual harassment must always take the form of physical aggression.
Examples of sexual harassment acts:
- Sending electronic messages with sexual undertones
- Sending compromising gifts
- Requesting sexual favors
- Use of pet names such as ‘Babe, baby, sweetie’ for persons other than one’s spouse
- Whistling and catcalling at a female. These have lasted from one generation to another and it is also ubiquitous
- Questions like ‘How was your night?’ and statements like, ‘I like your perfume’ are considered sexual innuendoes
- Unsolicited contact such as resting a hand on someone’s shoulder or thigh, pulling the cheek, butt tapping, touching a person’s hair, and so on
- Sexual and lewd jokes
- Winking the eye and blowing kisses at someone, staring at body parts, revealing private body parts, indecent dressing, and so on.
All inappropriate sexual conduct is a big deal and therefore not okay. Every form of sexual harassment is abuse. Nigeria has a provision in section 34 of its constitution regarding harassment. The different states also have several legislations guiding the legal framework of sexual harassment.
No one, male or female deserves to be sexually harassed. When a person is sexually harassed, they feel infra dig, utterly disrespected, and sometimes irreversibly violated so no matter the category or form perpetrated by the harasser, there is no soft landing for it in the mind, person, and life of the harassed – it is a big deal.