Why It’s So Hard To Speak Up About Sexual Harassment

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“Only some forms of sexual harassment will amount to a criminal offence,” says Ms Simran Toor, a partner at WongPartnership. “These include acts which amount to ‘insulting the modesty of a woman’, ‘outrage of modesty’ or ‘criminal intimidation’ under the Penal Code.”

You’ll also need to consider the timeframe of an investigation and things like giving statements, attending court, and facing cross-examination as a witness. If you have proof, such as messages or e-mails, you should also keep them until the case is over.

“Many cases of this nature involve ‘my word against yours’ scenarios. What may prove helpful in such cases is… evidence that [supports] your account of events,” says Simran, adding that while a criminal report may result in a conviction, it’s not a means to obtain other forms of redress, such as assurance that the harassment will not continue.

You may also consider getting a protection order under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), though it might be best to seek legal advice first. “As a POHA application involves a court proceeding, it’s also important to think through whether you’re ready for the time commitment, cost, and exposure,” says Simran.

Time to speak up

The Singaporean lawyer who was asked to leave her firm told The Straits Times that when she spoke up about her experience, she was called a liar. This isn’t surprising: “Perpetrators are often painted as strange, violent men, and experiences that don’t fit this myth are assumed to be untrue, misunderstood, or accidental,” explains Anisha.

Given society’s tendency to mistrust victims of sexual harassment, it’s easy to see why so many stay silent. This is precisely why it’s important that we’re having this conversation.

From what we’ve seen in Hollywood, when victims of sexual crimes call out the perpetrators, they raise society’s awareness of the problem and create an environment that encourages others to come forward. But know this – it can be difficult, so you shouldn’t blame yourself if you’re unable to do so. Sometimes, it may not be physically or psychologically safe to speak out.

In Gwyneth Paltrow’s case, she was afraid of being fired. In the Singaporean lawyer’s case, she was afraid her career prospects might be jeopardised. In my case, I was travelling in a remote destination with a man who could easily overpower me.

The way forward

If you file a police report, the perpetrator will be investigated and may be charged in court. That, of course, doesn’t always happen. But with high-profile perpetrators having gotten away with so much for so long, it’s heartening to see companies severing ties with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, and Terry Richardson in the wake of these accusations.

Such tangible actions against sexual misconduct sends out a strong message that it is not tolerated in our society.

And that, is how change begins.

If you have experienced sexual assault or are unsure about a sexual encounter, you can get help by calling the Sexual Assault Care Centre at 6779 0282 (Monday to Friday, 10am to midnight).

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