The recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. have started a conversation about sexual harassment, especially sexual harassment in the workplace. And while we don’t know the true extent of workplace sexual harassment here in Singapore, human resources experts and lawyers have said that it is not uncommon, according to a Straits Times report.
For instance, a survey in 2008 by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) found slightly over half of the 500 people polled had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. This ranged from receiving sexually explicit messages or content to being touched inappropriately and at its worst, rape.
In the first six months of this year, Aware, which runs a centre that helps people who were sexually assaulted, received 35 calls on workplace sexual harassment. Last year, it received 74 such calls for the whole year and the year before, 56.
Earlier today, the Straits Times ran a report on a 28-year-old lawyer who was given a year’s salary and then asked to leave her law firm after she lodged a formal complaint against her boss for sexual harassment.
Mary (not her real name), had repeatedly rejected his romantic advances. Once he summoned her to a two-hour “breakfast meeting”, when he started pouring out all his sexual fantasies about her.
“What he said was very graphic, very disturbing and very creepy. I was holding a glass of water and I was so freaked out and shaking so badly that all the water spilled out,” Mary told the newspaper. Her repeated rejections infuriated her boss. Mary said he started to bully her, by making her do menial and administrative tasks, instead of the legal work she was hired to do.
She told a female senior colleague, who told her to keep mum. She approached a founding partner of the firm but the man told her “such things happen when you are a pretty girl”.
However, he spoke to her boss, who admitted to taking an interest in Mary. But her boss later told everyone that Mary made all the allegations up as he had scorned her. After that, she lodged a formal complaint with the Human Resources department about the harassment, but was told “not to make a fuss”. Her boss did not face any disciplinary action.
For a year, she cried almost every day, feeling trapped and afraid to go to work. She finally confided in her father, a criminal lawyer, who told her she could go to the police as her boss was harassing her.
But when she wanted to go to the police, the firm compensated her with a year’s salary and asked her to leave. In return, she was made to sign a non-disclosure agreement and told she could not report the matter to the police or talk about it at all.
She was afraid her career prospects would be derailed if she went to the police and the case was reported in the news. She said: “I don’t want employers to think I’m someone who causes problems. Will I get another job after that?”
On Nov 5, she started a website, www.heartochange.com, for people to share their experiences of sexual harassment anonymously.
“I am not someone who is shy and not someone who doesn’t speak her mind. But when I spoke up, I was told I’m a liar and I made things up,” she said. “So I hope that more people can speak up even anonymously, so they don’t have to feel all alone and they can find some support.”
Text: Theresa Tan / The Straits Times / November 2017
For similar stories, visit straitstimes.com.
For more current affairs stories, read Local Celebs Speak Out About Sexual Harassment In Singapore and Singapore Actress Was Asked To Go To Harvey Weinstein’s Hotel Room.