NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Imagine being sexually harassed in the workplace and you feel as if you have nowhere to turn. You feel as if human resources would not be confidential – or worse yet – there is no human resources department to address your concerns.
In some instances, you are afraid to speak up because you risk losing your job, you may be ridiculed and your cries may fall on deaf ears. Daily you are subjected to the comments or advances of the sexual harasser, and going to work is not only fearful, but nauseating.
Simmone Bowe, a human resources coach and professional can relate.
“The first experience that I had was actually on a job interview, and as the interview was over I got up from my chair and I was making my way to the door of the office. The male interviewer walked up to the back of me and pressed himself against me so that I could feel his entire body on my back and he just stood there and froze,” Bowe recalled.
“I was not expecting this to happen, and I didn’t know what to do. This was an interview, this was a job that I wanted, and so my first inclination was just to create distance and I jumped and turned and I said, ‘what are you doing’ but he never responded, he never acknowledged what he did, he just leaned across again, opened the door and told me thank you for coming for the interview.
“Someone may say, ‘well you really weren’t violated and that was not a violation’, but it was,” Bowe said.
Bowe admitted that despite this violation, she still went on to accept the job but was never harassed again by the individual because of her firm reaction during their first encounter. She did note, however, that there were other instances of sexual harassment which followed in the workplace, some advances even coming from women.
“They would say, ‘oh look at that behind you got, give me some of that’ and these are women who say these things.
“I had a woman who literally opened her pants and showed me her undergarment and she said, ‘you know, you can use some of these I sell these’ and she opens her pants and shows me inside her clothes and said I need to get a pair and to me, that’s so offensive. It’s insulting, it’s invasive, and it happens all the time.”
Bowe noted that sexual harassment is more than “touch” and it can come in the form of comments, jokes and slurs towards another person.
“You may not physically touch me but when you say certain comments about my body parts or my figure, or something about me that this suggestive, if you even stare at me, you know people think that these things are OK and it’s not.”
Asked how she responds to these comments, Bowe said she often ignores the individual, would distance herself from them, or she speaks to the person very firmly about his or her actions.
Bowe said because The Bahamas is so small many persons are fearful of retaliation if they report cases of sexual harassment.
“Oftentimes because people have responsibilities and they really need their job, they would not want to jeopardize the job or their reputation,” Bowe said, adding that sometimes the retaliation could be termination or blacklisting.
A human resource professional and coach, Bowe told Eyewitness News that if a person witnesses another person being harassed, they too can report the matter.
Human resources, she said, should be a place where people feel safe enough to make a sexual harassment report.
“There should be policies in place in our workplace that can protect every party – whether male or female – and these policies should be protecting them against retaliation and any other act that someone may do toward them.
“It is very important that we take it seriously, that we do proper investigations, that we have witnesses so that the whole process is transparent, that it is fair and people can feel like I can trust this process, and I will be more inclined to report it.”
Bowe advises persons who are being sexually harassed in the workplace to find an “avenue” within their organization that they trust and to let them know what is going on.
“I would also tell them to think like a lawyer because it is not enough to just come forward with an allegation because when people start to investigate they start to look at the whole context, and if they can paint you in a bad light they will discount the claim.
“So I would encourage anyone to start logging. Log when the incidents happen and write down the details of what happened, write the date, write the time and start to track.
“Also, find someone to report it to. If you don’t have a human resources department, find a manager that you can trust and can file a rapport with and hope that due process will be followed.
“This can also be a legal matter that you can take to the police – and we would hope that it does not get to that point – but we would have to use internal measures to deal with things appropriately.”
Meanwhile, Bowe said the road to recovery for a person who has been sexually harassed is to actually have a voice. Such persons, she said, must speak out about the issue.
“I think when you have a voice, that is when you begin your road to recovery and that is why I agreed to even do this and not be afraid because this is where it starts. This is where you get your courage when you speak out and say these things are wrong and they should stop.”