Sexual Harassment: the unspoken media scourge

We know both anecdotally and from WIN research that the problem of unwanted sexual advances in news organisations is huge. But what practical steps should you take if you are harassed or someone, to whom you as a manager owe a duty of care, is the target?

Firstly, be clear, it is the person on the receiving end who decides whether or not the behaviour is unwanted or offensive – regardless of the perpetrator’s intention. Harassment can be physical, verbal or non-verbal. Indeed, any unwanted and offensive behaviour of a sexual nature that violates your dignity, humiliates, degrades or threatens you is sexual harassment. 

Jane Godia, Women in News Director, Africa, said “Sadly even with the high numbers victims don’t speak out for fear of not being believed, stigmatized or losing their jobs. The only way to bring it to an end is to break the silence by speaking out whenever it happens.”

“Sometimes, women do not speak out because of the pressure that the patriarchal society we live in puts on them. Being stigmatized is not easy to live with, and many women who express their experience with sexual harassment are often discriminated for “ruining” the reputation of the family or the media organisation. This should stop! Women are not the ones to be blamed for the harassment, no matter where they live or work, and no matter how they dress or act,” said Myra Abdallah, Women in News communications manager and sexual harassment trainer, Arab region. 

So how do you manage it?

If you’re the target: Identify how you are being sexually harassed; if you feel able to, inform your harasser the behaviour is unwanted. Be sure to keep yourself safe at work and keep and gather evidence. Make a complaint and seek support within the organisation. If you are not satisfied with your company’s response, consider taking your case to court.

If you’re the manager: Be prepared: have clear principles, policies and step-by-step procedures in place, for formal and informal complaints, as you never know when they will arise. Treat all complaints seriously and promptly and allow for anonymous disclosures prior to investigation. Appoint a designated person to deal with and investigate complaints and when needed, bring in outside assistance or expertise. If the case involves sexual assault, report it to the police. Consider the option of suspension during investigation.

It cannot be overstated how important it is to have a policy and set of procedures already in place if and when an incident of sexual harassment arises in your organisation. “This helps to provide clarity for all parties involved. It also ensures that the employees involved,  investigating parties, as well as the organisation, are protected throughout the difficult process of investigating a complaint,” added Melanie Walker, Executive Director, Women in News. 

If you are looking for resources, The WIN Sexual Harassment Toolkit is a rich, guide that gives strategies for both women employees and managers. It is essential reading for all employers.

It includes:

– A practical guide for media employers and employees
– An awareness poster to put up in newsrooms and offices
– A sample sexual harassment policy 
– A sample sexual harassment survey and 
– Sample communications templates 

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