The BIG 9 myths about sexual harassment

Sexual Harassment is a burning issue and the Government of India has brought out “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013” to address the issue.

When we conduct workshops sensitizing employees about what constitutes sexual harassment, these sessions can be minefields. We encounter prejudice, misunderstanding and ignorance. And this does not surprise me because some myths have been perpetuated by society. One day my daughter who at that time was all of 12 came back from school and stated that her teachers were very sexist. I asked her what happened. She replied that they keep says girls are so responsible. I am ashamed but it did not even register in my mind as a sexist attitude till she pointed it out.

Based on my experience, I think these are the big 9 myths:

  1. “Sexual Harassment is uncommon” – Sexual harassment is more common than you think. It touches the lives of 40-60% of women. If you don’t believe me take a snap poll at your office: Ask: “Have you ever encountered a situation at office, in a public place, bus etc. where people made derogatory remarks, lewd comments, touched you inappropriately etc.?” And it can happen to anyone… it happened to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany.
  2. “You asked for it” – This is typical victim blaming where the victim is blamed for dressing or conducting herself in a provocative manner. The fact however is that how the victim is dressed does not have any bearing on whether she will be harassed or not. Many of the cases of sexual assault are on children or modestly dressed women.
  3. “Oh! You are overreacting.” – Sexual Harassment is not harmless flirting. It is unwanted verbal or physical contact with sexual overtones. And no you are not overreacting!
  4. “I harass you because I am attracted to you.” – Sexual harassment is not about sex but about power. The perpetuator enjoys the control and domination.
  5. “Men from decent families do not harass.” – False once again. Anyone can be a sexual predator and it is best to have your guard up. A good family background, a happy family life with wife and children…hmm still keep your guard up.
  6. “Only women face sexual harassment.” – Men and women face sexual harassment and the perpetuator too can be male or female. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013 (an act by the Government of India) only protects women at the workplace but many organizations have gender neutral policies.
  7. “All harassers are senior to victim.”– Fact is a large number of harassers are peers.
  8. “No means Yes” – This is perpetuated by numerous Bollywood movies over time. The premise is the “Man mein haan hain pur hoothon pe na hain”. Very dangerous premise because with this you discount the victims protests. Just because you have bought a woman dinner or drinks or hired her does not mean you have obtained her consent.
  9. “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned” – Women make up cases to spite their bosses and colleagues. Well, some people will try and break every rule to their advantage. However, there is no data to support this myth.
  10. While our team was facilitating a group of professionals at a client venue and they grappled with what constitutes sexual harassment, we got stuck with how staring can be considered harassment. The men in the group volunteered that they sometimes stare in the distance but now will have to be careful. (I think they were serious). One person continued the argument till finally, the facilitator snapped (a man and a lawyer to boot) and said everyone knows when a stare has a sexual connotation…you are staring at different body parts. Another participant offered another term ….leering…and the session went on. But it reminded me that as we start talking about these areas: # sexual harassment, #gender sensitization and #diversity we are creating new ground. The anxiety people feel is natural. And the only way to handle it is to facilitate conversation where we can decide and adopt a new norm.

    Lovely Kumar is a facilitator, trainer, psychometric assessor and is co-founder at Larks Learning Pvt Ltd. She has a unique background which combines economics, management, advertising, sales, teaching and training. She has worked with a range of corporates and academic institutions. Additionally she has obtained international certifications in training and psychometric assessments.

    Learn more and reach Lovely Kumar for training workshops or DISC assessments at at, or 91-9899108659.