Last one week has been triggering and heartbreaking at a lot of levels with many women coming out and calling out their sexual abusers, especially from the media and television and film industry. It is not easy to speak up about such incidents and hence the courage the women have displayed at taking the step, which could have severe repercussions on personal and professional lives, is highly commendable.
However, many times when one is faced with such a situation, one is not sure how to go about handling it and how to take action to bring it to a logical conclusion. A journalist, who faced such a situation has written about some practical advice on how to deal with it.
She had accused her former employer Co-founder and Managing Editor of a viral content website of sexual harassment and levelled charges of abetment against the Co-founder and CEO, and Co-founder and CCO of the content website. She says the harassment dates back to 2015 when she joined the website as the Founding Editor-in-Chief.
She says that she took legal steps and the litigation has lasted over a year. Since the case is sub-judice, she could not give out details of the case but does list out some of the hardships and harassment she faced. She says that when she complained in June 2016, there was no internal complaints committee (ICC).
She says she was assured by the Co-founder and COO that strict action would be taken and she would not be made to work with the harasser again. However, the opposite happened. She says that an ICC was set up in August 2016 and without her knowledge or consent she was named as one of the members along with one of the accused in abetting, and hence she could not judge her own case.
Her concerns, she says, were met with silence. She says she was repeatedly and coercively told not to put anything in writing. Hence, her first advice is to put everything in writing:
“It seems exhausting (and almost unnecessary until you’ve been harassed), but even if you don’t take your fight to court, you will need any and all evidence to participate in an ICC investigation or even to substantiate your claims should you face any legal or social media-fueled backlash. We must accept that we live in a less-than-ideal reality where we must come to expect and be prepared for any assault or harassment, and with that understanding – I urge you to collect and store any and all evidence from the time you notice something’s off in someone’s interaction(s) with you.”
She says that after her complaint, her time in the organisation was marred by constant harassment on the hands of these individuals. “In fact, ironical and sad as it is in the scheme of women supporting women, this workplace harassment was largely perpetrated and abetted by *name redacted*. *name redacted* used every trick in the ‘How to Silence Sexual Harassment Victims’ handbook to edge me out of the company on what would seem like my own volition, to criticize my work without adequate reason, to overburden me with work far below my qualifications, designation, and capabilities and beyond the reasonable scope and timings of my job, and more.” she wrote on Facebook.
She further accuses her former colleagues of indulging in an intra-office mail smear campaign maligning her and another colleague. She then started collecting evidence. Chat records and anything that could help in the ICC to strengthen her case. She then advises not to quit:
“It is likely that many of you who have spoken up (or not) are worried for the security of your job and your next paycheque. My strictly personal advice to you is to STAY within the system, if your strength allows it, and fight while you’re inside. The Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 provides for a 90-day PAID leave for complainants to avoid the discomfort of her workplace during the pendency of the investigation. In fact, even if you choose to take your fight to a higher court, you are well within your legal rights to maintain your status of employment.”
After realising that the ICC is not going to help her get justice, she decided to take up the legal course of action. She spent days waiting to file an FIR and says the police did a very shoddy preliminary investigation. On this, she advises to get a lawyer:
“I strongly recommend getting legal counsel in place the moment you decide to pursue even so much as an internal investigation. Several stories have emerged in the past year alone of willfully botched up ICC investigations, and one must accept that such committees are mere creatures of the organization and management, should they even exist in the first place. In that event, if you approach the police, please have a lawyer accompany you to ensure all formalities are addressed. The police isn’t always your friend, but it may be your only logical recourse.”
She says that after the FIR, the media picked up her story and she was hounded by conflicting media narratives and insensitive reporting by ‘small section of renowned, otherwise holier-than-thou media enterprises.’ She especially finds fault with a portal named NewsD and Newslaundry.
She further alleges that, “In an even more infuriating and bizarre turn of events, I was informed that in spite of putting out a carefully crafted press release acknowledging my complaint and the pending investigation, *name redacted* brazenly edited, wrongfully contextualized, and then leaked my private official emails to him and *name redacted* to the entire office of the website and to several news Websites in an attempt to further harass, humiliate, and malign me, and destroy my well established career.”
She says these emails contained details about her and violated the laws that protect the identity of the survivors of sexual crimes. She then advises to be ready to see people take u-turn:
“You must accept and prepare for is the dark reality that when it comes to standing as your witnesses, some of your closest companions and/or most upright colleagues will either shy away or go against you. I had colleagues I considered friends either outright refuse to stand as witnesses, or distance themselves completely, or turn against me. Some of my ex-colleagues blatantly lied in their police testimonies against me (you know who you are, and I can’t wait to destroy you in a cross examination). I later heard from sources that *names redacted*, and their legal team had allegedly coerced and/or bribed employees to testify against me and manipulated key evidence.
I would advise you to forgive those who don’t have the courage to stand with you (but want to), and immediately let go of those who just won’t. But fight anyway.”
She further advises to be aware of the law:
“Acquaint yourself with the law, arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to advocate for yourself in an ICC (you are not allowed any legal representation within the hearings and investigation, but may seek counsel outside of the ICC), and be well prepared with any jurisprudence to mitigate the impact of an investigation that may be engineered against your interests. It has been heartening to see certain well-intentioned ICCs take up complaints from even a few years ago, but equally unsettling to see that the legal framework may not always support the victims who inculcate the courage to come forward much later. That said – YOU CAN ALWAYS TAKE IT TO THE POLICE.”
She urges more women to come out and speak out and tell their story. This will help in creating a robust body of judgements so that going forward, women find it relatively easier to take the legal course of action against sexual harassment, especially at the workplace.
Update: Names have been redacted due to an order of the honourable High Court of Delhi, as apprised to us by one of the parties. However, the information is being retained as the objective of this article is to make readers aware of the issues related to reporting workplace harassment rather than passing judgment in this particular case. OpIndia is not commenting on the merits of the case.