Sexual Harassment

Psychology Behind Sexual Harassment

The recent #metoo campaign has brought out several cases of sexual harassment right from the perspective of the victims, both male and female. There are perpetrators whose advances range from passing sexual comments to getting physical. Why do they do this? Why only with certain people?

Some first-hand stories of sexual harassments from the #metoo campaign

 Being raped once made it easier to be raped again. I instinctually shut down. My body remembered, so it protected me. I disappeared. #metoo  – @EvanRachelWood

#metooA manager on my first big tour as a backup singer. When I went to a lawyer he told me to suck it up bc the guy could do a lot for me. – @SherylCrow

These are just two of the millions of stories that came out from the tweets of the victims of Sexual Harassment. So why exactly does this happen? Why does this happen to people except a few? What makes people harassers? Before answering such questions, let us look into some statistics.

Few Disturbing Statistics about Sexual Harassments

Vishakha guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India, includes the following under the umbrella of Sexual harassment:

  1. a) physical contact and advances;
  2. b) a demand or request for sexual favours;
  3. c) sexually coloured remarks;
  4. d) showing pornography and
  5. e) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

While the lay person likes to believe that the enforcement of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 since December 2013 should result in fewer cases of sexual harassment in India, the statistics show something else. The statistics reported by the National Crime Bureau are as follows:

  1. Cases of Sexual harassment cases in office premises grew by 100% within office premises between 2014 and 2015. This means such cases have doubled.
  2. There has been a growth of 50% of such cases in other places related to work.
  3. 38% of women have faced sexual harassment at their work place.
  4. 70% of female victims do no report these incidents.
  5. 5% of women reported that their company did not follow the procedures laid down by theSexual Harassment Act, I.e. setting up of Internal Complaints Committee(ICC) in each office with 10 or more people of any gender.
  6. 7% of those people part of the survey told that the members of the ICC do not have the knowledge about the legal provisions and sections available under the act.
  7. The success rate of the ICC’s in just 66.7%. But close to 50% of these survivors left the workplace.
  8. 36% of Indian Companies and 25% of the INC’s do not comply with the standards of the Sexual Harassment Act.

These do not just imply that the incidents have increased but also the number of people reporting such incidents seeking justice has also grown. These also show the loopholes that the laws have.

Why do such incidences occur?

There are several explanations offered to explain such incidents. These include why women are targeted at the workplace far more than men, why do people turn harassers and what traits do the perpetrators look for in their potential victims.

Why are women targeted more than men?

Initially, there were only cases of women being sexually harassed by men. But as time passed, more and more of reports of men being sexually harassed are coming up. Still, female victims outnumber the male victims. Few of the reasons are as follows.

  1. In patriarchal societies like India, women are considered only as housekeepers confined to the four walls of house(bedroom). As more and more walk out of their houses for work, sexual harassment is used as a tool to threaten them and go back and do their duties within the four walls.
  2. Men in work places perceive women as a threat, because more people means less job assignments and lesser pay.
  3. Portrayal of women as sex objects in mass media like advertisements, pornography, movies, etc.
  4. The society teaches that women are inferior to men and are subject to man’s commands.
  5. The recurring incidents causes a fear in the minds of women and in the presence of potential culprits, they look vulnerable, stricken with fear.

Women are restricted in the society to speak up about such incidents. So, it is far easy to threaten women to prevent them from reporting them.

More and more cases of male victims are coming up because of various reasons like increasing acceptance of other sexual preferences, women being in top positions, so on and so forth.

Why do people become harassers?

  1. Sexual harassers are usually middle aged. They involve in such acts because they are dissatisfied with their sex lives and want to satisfy their lust. This makes them look for potential victims.
  2. People, both young and old, who watch pornographic content portraying such violent sexual acts forget that such content is scripted and for entertainment only. They think that such things are real and try to get a hands-on experience.
  3. People in power want to establish their power and superiority over others. So, they involve in such acts.

Why are so few cases reported?

  1. The statistics are definitely under reported because of the stigma that the victims will be labelled with and the dire consequences they might face like losing their jobs, being unable to find another job, so on and so forth.
  2. Plus, the law enforcing agencies are not very prompt in filing the FIR’s and investigating the cases and bringing the culprits behind bars.

How does a potential culprit identify a victim?

  1. A perpetrator with any such intentions first does what is called an Interview Process,even before a potential victim notices his/her presence. He scans his victim as to how social she is, how many people are around, whether she expects any such thing from him, so on. If he smells suspicion from his potential victim, he is more likely to just walk away.
  2. Women who wear jeans and a t-shirt are more likely to become victims of sexual violence than other outfits. The fact here is not the exposure, but the level to which the woman is looking vulnerable. Women who wear more conservative clothing are more afraid than women who wear comparatively less covering outfits with confidence.
  3. Even the walking style of the women help the perpetrators decide who is a potential victim and who is not. Women who walk in an unnatural way (with shorter or longer steps, slower or faster pace, etc.) , is mostly perceived due to fear assuring them that she is insecure.
  4. They observe the body posture of the victims as well. They look for unsteady body posture (slumping body posture, unsteady movement of hands while walking, etc.) which clearly show that they are insecure.
  5. If a lady senses a potential perpetrator, it is advisable to look him in his eye, warning him that she has noticed his presence will prevent him from attacking.

By all these points, a perpetrator seems to be a real psychologist observing each thing in detail.

So, how to prevent becoming a victim?

  1. First of all, a woman should be or at least look confident, no matter what attire she wears.
  2. Second, she must not look vulnerable and should make the perpetrator know that she knows that he is stalking her. Make direct, confident eye contact with him.
  3. A woman should try to go in groups as far as possible and be with more people around her. This prevents the perpetrator from going ahead.

Final words

These sexual harassment incidents happen because sex is a stigmatized subject in spite of the fact that it happens in everyone’s life. The society should teach the young generation to see sex as a part of life. Providing quality sex education to our children should be our top priority.

Second, we should teach our sons to not to see women as sex objects and treat them equal to them and in no way inferior to men.

Third, the mass education sensitizing the society about such occurrences and the law weapons available for defense should be taken up on a large scale.

Lastly, encouraging our daughters, wives and mothers to go out of the house and catch their dreams and being a pillar of support to them whatever they face in their journey. The perpetrators are confident to go ahead with such acts, because they are confident that no one will support the victims, instead the whole family and the society will go against the victim instead of the culprit.

The solution to this widespread and growing problem should be treated with the slow medicine of education. Parents, teachers, brothers, sisters, governments, NGO’s and the society as a whole should take measures to sensitize the youth about such crimes and help the victims overcome them.



Author: Ms. Nayana M R