Intimidation, harassment and violence have no place in a democracy ––Mo Ibrahim

BECAUSE of the severity of the impact on the national community, some issues require repeat publication with fresh narratives. I had shared some perspectives previously on sexual harassment; however, the conversations and debate on the issue continue to focus heavily on the establishment of a national policy, which is indeed important.

But there should be a greater focus on the why of sexual harassment. Why do some men and and also women, find it necessary to sexually harass others?

Given the thrust of my doctoral research on critical psycho-social issues and how those issues are communicated to the wider public, my interest will always weigh heavily on the why, which at most, causes severe emotional turbulence to those affected.

Like domestic violence, sexual harassment emerges from an unstable emotional psyche which produces unhealthy stimuli; the level of pain that comes from both ills warrants different types of strategies which all begin with understanding why they occur.

Understanding why sets a structural context in understanding the issue. More and more women globally are raising red flags signalling their resistance to this unfortunate workplace phenomenon and so we’ve arrived at a juncture where the characteristics of individuals inclined to sexually harassing others must be articulated openly.

US-based Savvy Psychologist Dr Ellen Hendricksen has identified four core characteristics that profile potential sexual harassers. First is the Dark Triad, which is a combination of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece on narcissism which in short is the “me, myself and I” syndrome. Narcissists cleverly seek opportunities to justify sexually harassing their victims if they think they’ve missed a sexual experience in their earlier life.

The second element, psychopathy, relates to fearless dominance and aggressive impulsivity which makes harassers devoid of empathy for their victims.

These three traits combined equate to exploitation.

Moral disengagement, the second characteristic identified by Hendricksen, is a cognitive process through which individuals justify their warped actions by creating their own morality in which moral principles don’t apply.

Employment in a male-dominated field is the third characteristic which research has proven tends to lead to high prevalence of sexual harassment.

The fourth characteristic shows that men prone to sexual harassment usually display hostile attitudes towards women, which can negatively affect women’s self-esteem, particularly if there is regular contact in the workspace.

Dr Shawn Burn, psychology professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis, has also theorised on the why of sexual harassment.

“Sometimes sexual harassment is used to intimidate, disempower and discourage women in traditionally male-dominated occupations,” she said. “For women in fields like the military, tech or politics, men often perform such inappropriate behaviour in an effort to protect their occupational territory; the behaviour goes so unchecked by leaders in an organisation that it becomes a workplace norm.”

Sexual harassment like other sex crimes, must never be tolerated and/or accepted, despite how minuscule the action may appear to be.

Adriana Sandrine Rattan is a communications and branding consultant, author, empowerment builder and president of the International Women’s Resource Network (IWRN). Contact: [email protected];


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