Victims should speak out
This letter was published in The New Paper on 31st Mar 2010
By Corinna Lim
The fact that there were quite a few incidents in a short 4 day period indicates that the reported sexual harassment incidents are not uncommon at events like this. This is confirmed by Ms Annabelle Pennefather who also said that she would usually brief and warn her volunteers about such matters.
Workplace sexual harassment (WSH) is prevalent in Singapore but many perpetrators get away with it simply because most victims do not report.
In this case, it is noted that the CEP Champions were not in an employment situation. They were in a project situation and thus did not have as much to lose compared to an employment situation. And that may be why a few of them did speak out.
In TNP’s report on ‘Be my special designer girlfriend’ (23/3/2010) , it was significant that the perpetrator had a record of harassing other staff explicitly, but they all tolerated it as they were in his employment. The whistle blower was someone who had not yet started work yet.
This just goes to show how difficult it is for victims of WSH to report. And if we do not start seriously spreading the message that this really is unacceptable behavior and start taking action against perpetrators, harassment will continue unpunished.
The CEP Champions involved were not shy wall flowers. They were specially chosen for their leadership qualities. Yet, it was clear that they found it hard to really put their foot down in an assertive way. They declined invitations and some walked off, but it seemed that no one actually said “Stop! You are making me uncomfortable or Stop! This is inappropriate behaviour”. This is the recommended response to put the perpetrator on notice that his actions are not welcomed.
The lack of specific legislation, a code of conduct and a strong culture prohibiting WSH makes it extremely difficult for victims to take more assertive action.
Moving forward, we would urge SYOGOC to:
i)conduct and investigate the various incidents that have been reported, including investigating whether or not any of these incidents involving physical harassment were reported to any officials, and if not, why not;
ii)establish a clear code of conduct for delegates and participants as to what constitutes inappropriate behavior;
iii)train the volunteers on how they should handle such incidents i.e. to Say No! very firmly so that the perpetrator knows that the conduct is unwelcomed; and
iv)establish processes for people to report harassment incidents and for dealing with such incidents.