Reverse power play
The recent allegations against pop star Katy Perry have highlighted how men too can be victims of sexual harassment. We get the experts to weigh in on reverse harassment, and the how to tackle it
The days of reckoning are here to stay with skeletons of sexual misconduct continuing to tumble out of powerful closets in a post #MeToo-world. With a vast majority of these allegations being levelled at influential men by women, questions about the role of gender in the abuse of power have been raised. However, recent reports about American pop star Katy Perry, who has been accused of inappropriate conduct by three men including Josh Kloss who had appeared in Perry's music video, have challenged this rhetoric. In the process, we've also come to learn about what happens when men dare to speak up about being sexually harassed — in all three cases, the men accusing Perry of sexual misconduct were harassed and blamed of lying for attention.
Katy Perry with Josh Kloss in the video of Teenage Dream (2010)
"At its core, sexual harassment arises from the abuse of power, irrespective of gender. Both men and women in positions of power can abuse their influence to demand sexual favours. However, cases of men reporting such harassment are few for a number of reasons. The most pertinent being the stigma associated with the concept of men experiencing sexual harassment. Most men are, therefore, too embarrassed to report misconduct, fearing that it may indicate 'unmanly' behaviour on their part. They are afraid of being mocked or ridiculed," explains Dr Payal Sharma Kamath, psychiatrist at Rekindle Mind Clinic. Another reason, she says, is a perceptual difference, or how the incident is perceived based on the victim's mindset and past experiences.
Dr Payal Sharma Kamath
Men have been conditioned into believing that harassment against them is less threatening and can even be flattering. "In certain cases, men may experience physical arousal during the incident, which confuses them into not reporting the incident. But the body's physiological reaction does not mean that you invited or enjoyed the assault," says Dr Nahid Dave, psychiatrist at Insight Clinic. The effects of harassment can be as lasting and damaging to male victims. They experience shame and self-doubt arising from the belief that they should have been strong enough to fight off the perpetrator, she adds. Prolonged harassment can trigger anxiety, depression and PTSD, and even lead to confusion about sexual orientation. "Men struggle with feeling as though they are 'less of a man' for experiencing and being traumatised. The fear of disbelief makes them reluctant to disclose abusive behaviour," she adds.
"From a legal perspective, sexual harassment as identified by the Indian Penal Code is directed largely at harassment experienced by women. This stems from the fact that the procedural guidelines that are currently being followed have stemmed from the Vishakha Guidelines disseminated by the Indian Supreme Court in 1997, which were later superseded by the POSH Act, or The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013. There are no laws formulated explicitly for men or from a gender-neutral perspective. In fact, even our rape laws are not gender-neutral. In dire circumstances, men may invoke certain sections of the IPC such as 294 that addresses obscene acts or words in public. If the harassment escalates to stalking or affects the victim's personal liberty and safety, the accused may be prosecuted for criminal intimidation," explains advocate Dr Chinmay Bhosale, partner at SRB OJAS.
For harassment experienced at the workplace, women are safeguarded by committees and procedures that have been mandated by law. However, since many organisations still abide by such laws on a need-to-do basis, in most cases, male professionals are not as well protected, he adds. Fortunately, corporate India has been rising to the evolving needs by taking initiatives to ensure that employees, irrespective of gender, have access to fair working conditions. Katyayani Pandey, an HR professional at Big Four, a consulting firm, explains that most multinational companies treat allegations of sexual misconduct seriously.
"Although not mandated by law, the POSH committee at most companies is accessible to all employees, regardless of gender. Even the occasional off-colour remark does not go unchecked. Should you or your colleague experience any such incident, do not hesitate to approach the designated committee representative, who is usually an HR employee. Do note, however, that not all HR team members have the right access to address and resolve your concerns," she says.
Forum Master, an HR executive, adds that many organisations have a special email address for employees to directly reach out to the committee. This committee acts as a civil court and is usually comprised of an equal number of members from both genders. The claims are investigated, and disciplinary action is taken against the guilty party. Measures are also taken to protect the identity of the survivor," she says. While social media did play a pertinent role in making the #MeToo movement spread its wings, both caution that social media only be used as a final recourse when all formal channels have been exhausted. "Without the organisation stepping in to protect the survivor, the perpetrator can resort to retaliatory action," Master warns.
Manav Dheer (name changed), a 27-year-old PR professional, says that a senior colleague in the media recently approached him during an event. "For me, what made the advance feel especially predatory was that he took the liberty of fondling me without the slightest consideration about my willingness. I brushed his hands away and rushed out of the room immediately. Throughout the evening, I could feel his eyes on me. I took pains to avoid inadvertently running into him as I could tell that he was looking for another opportunity to approach me," he says. Dheer did not discuss this with his seniors or HR, for fear of word reaching his perpetrator who, he says, is capable of destroying any prospects of professional growth. "He is well known and even feared in the industry. My company would never dare to lock horns with him and our client would drop us immediately if they knew we were going against this individual," he says.
Know this first
Consent can be conditional: Being in a romantic or sexual relationship with someone does not automatically translate to consent. Consent must be given each time and be clear and enthusiastic.
Acknowledge your own boundaries: Be clear how close you are willing to allow someone without compromising on your dignity.
Communicate: Make sure to clearly state your boundaries so as to avoid unwanted incidents.
Action, not intent: Avoid addressing the intent of the perpetrator. It is the harm that the action is causing you that matters, not intent.
Ask: State the behaviour you expect from the other individual in future. Do not hesitate to reiterate the same.
What constitutes sexual harassment?
. Retaliation for refusing sexual advances.
. Off-colour jokes.
. Uncomfortable touch
. Referring to individuals with offensive terms.
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