Category Archive: Sexual Harassment

16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children

Violence against women in the workplace – time for it to stop!

16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children runs from 25 November till 10 December each year. In fact, the 25th of November is specifically observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, an initiative started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, which continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL). The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign, also coordinated by the CWGL, which is used by activists around the world as a platform to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence.

South Africa is one of 187 countries to participate in the 16 Days of Activism Campaign since 1991, with a reach of 300 million. The objectives of the campaign, taken from the dedicated website, are to:

  • Raise awareness about gender-based violence against women as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels
  • Strengthen local work around gender-based violence against women
  • Establish a clear link between local and international work to end gender-based violence against women
  • Provide a forum in which organisers can develop and share new and effective strategies
  • Demonstrate the solidarity of women around the world organising against gender-based violence against women
  • Create tools to pressure governments to implement commitments to eliminate gender-based violence against women

2019 theme for 16 Days of Activism – ending violence at work

Each year’s campaign has a theme, and this year it is ending violence against women in the world of work. This is particularly salient in the South African context, where there is a push to encourage women into traditionally male-dominated occupations and professions. Take mining, for instance – a mainstay of our economy and our labour market. Until 1996, women were not permitted to work underground. The South African Mining Charter of 2004 introduced a requirement that a mine’s staff complement must include at least 10% female miners. But a mine is not an easy environment for women to enter. Early women mineworkers faced challenges such as equipment and protective clothing sized for men, forcing women to use ill-fitting gear that made their jobs harder and even unsafe. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, through pressure from unions and female employees and efforts by the Chamber of Mines and equipment manufacturers. However, there are still inadequate ablution facilities, and women often have to share changing rooms with men.

The outcome is sadly predictable: women are subjected to sexual assault and rape in the workplace. In one tragic and high-profile incident, a woman miner was found dead, a used condom next to her body, at Anglo Platinum’s Khomanani mine in 2012. In 2015, at another Anglo Platinum mine, Thembelani in Rustenberg, a woman was attacked and raped by a suspected illegal miner in the women’s changing rooms while showering.

No industry is immune

Violence against women at work is not confined to blue collar occupations. Sexual violence – and its close cousin, sexual harassment – are of course illegal in this country. Obviously assault, sexual or otherwise, is a criminal offence, but sexual harassment is also a form of unfair discrimination on the basis of sex, gender and/or sexual orientation. It has been described by the Labour Appeal Court as “the most heinous misconduct that plagues a workplace”. Why, then, is it so rife?

Social structures, social norms

According to unwomen.org, “Rape is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power, and control that continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalised.” South Africa still has a deeply entrenched patriarchal society, borne out by our rape statistics, despite a progressive constitution and ground-breaking advances in other aspects of our society.

Ending sexual violence requires fundamental changes to systems of power and control, and existing social structures are critical to this transformation. One of the most influential social structures is the workplace, so employers have a vital role to play in defeating sexual violence at work.

Employer obligations

Employers are obliged, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to create a workplace that safeguards the health and safety of employees. It would be impossible to foresee and pre-empt every possibility of harm, but employers must take all tenable steps possible to protect employees from injury or distress that can reasonably be prevented.

Furthermore, the 2005 Amended Code of Good Practice: Sexual Harassment Cases (the Code) requires employers to ensure that the dignity of employees is respected in the working environment. Part of this stipulation is the inclusion of appropriate sexual harassment policies defining the process of handling sexual harassment sensitively and efficiently, including the provision of support to victims. However, while employers are permitted to report sexual violence to the police, there is no legal requirement for them to do so. The responsibility to press charges lies with the victim, and there are many obstacles that prevent this happening. This needs to change.

Employee engagement is key

Employers must lead the way, but they cannot change mindsets by imposition. Workers of both sexes need to buy into the problem in order to be part of the solution. This is not just a “women’s issue”.

Security is essential

Employers need to provide adequate security on the premises to ensure the safety of women, especially after hours; and there needs to be a confidential means of communication that allows victims of sexual harassment or violence to report it, without fear of repercussions. These are the basics that must be in place so long as sexual violence is still a threat in our society.

But security alone is not enough

To remove that threat altogether, attitudes and norms must change. To encourage this, employers can offer sensitivity and awareness training. Many men pay lip service to gender equality and are genuinely appalled by gender-based violence, but at the same time they participate in bar conversations ranking the females in their office in order of attractiveness. They need to realise and understand that this is not acceptable; it’s on a continuum of debasement of women that ultimately ends in violence and rape. Men need to speak out when they witness sexual harassment, abuse or violence. This includes innuendo, “accidental” touching, and lewd looks. It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is their best mate; silence is collusion. Good men must speak up in the presence of unacceptable behaviour by other men. Claiming to be without blame but turning a blind eye to the transgressions of others makes one as guilty as the offender himself.

SD Law stands against gender-based violence

SD Law stands firmly behind the campaign to end violence in the workplace and supports 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. We will not stand by when we see men mistreating women or in any way perpetuating the social norms that feed our horrendous rape statistics.

We can act for you if you have been a victim of sexual violence, in the workplace or anywhere else, and would like to bring charges against your assailant. We understand that the process of coming forward is frightening and distressing. We will provide a safe, trusting environment where you will always be believed. SD Law is a firm of Cape Town lawyers, also practising in Johannesburg and Durban, with expertise in family law and criminal law. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za for a confidential discussion.

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Netflix “Unbelievable”…is all too believable

“Shows with traumatic plotlines are shifting the national debate”

The Netflix mini-series, Unbelievable, may be an American production, but its story is resonating with women all over the world. Conversation has turned to a discussion of Unbelievable in  Cape Town and Johannesburg bars and coffee shops more than once recently. What is your view of dramatising rape stories? Since the #metoo movement began, it has become much more acceptable to bring accounts of sexual abuse and assault out into the open. It’s unsurprising the media has followed suit. At SD Law, we agree with the author of the article below, that…

“…programmes on what consent looks like, on the impact of harassment in public places, the way it forces women to avoid the dark, or take the longer route home…”

are vital to bringing the subject of sexual harassment of women out of the shadows and tackling it head-on. Our government – and everyone in a position of educating or influencing men – needs to do much, much more if South African women are to feel safe. It requires…

“elected leaders understanding their responsibilities, with thoughtful interventions in schools, the welfare system, hospitals. With compulsory sex education that means porn isn’t a child’s default teacher on what sex is, who sex is for…”

We think author Eva Wiseman makes some salient points. Read on and decide for yourself.

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TV shows and books dealing with rape and sexual assault make for upsetting and unsettling viewing and reading, but at least the grim stories are propelling us towards the possibility of social change.

We are nearing the finale of season three, when the storyline twists and characters evolve and we are invited to question all we thought we knew. In the same way that it’s harder to care about statistics (like the proportion of rapes being prosecuted in England and Wales dropping to just 1.7%) than stories (like the new book by Chanel Miller, a blistering account of her sexual assault), perhaps it is easier to think of rape in these terms. As a horror show, unfolding.

Yesterday over lunch I read the news that, as Carl Beech was jailed after fabricating claims of historical rape, a former High Court judge concluded that the “instruction to believe a victim’s account should cease.” “Sure,” I said aloud, darkly over tea. This came after the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW) pointed out that, judging by the woefully low rate of prosecutions, rape appears to have been decriminalised, an idea that continues to roll around my mind like a marble. Along with the ancient image of a thong.

Where once victims were humiliated in court by defence barristers holding up the underwear they wore on the night of the attack, today they are presented with old text messages or photos, which do the same job as the asking-for-it underwear, but in higher resolution. I spent my journey home reading Miller’s book and that night lay in bed watching Unbelievable, the Netflix true-crime drama based on a teenager whose rape was discounted by detectives. I slept, not well.

Both Miller’s book, Know My Name, and Netflix’s Unbelievable shine a torch on the reality of sexual assault today, at a time when rape charges, prosecutions and convictions in England and Wales are at their lowest levels in more than a decade. Until recently, Miller was known as “Emily Doe”, the pseudonym of the “Brock Turner sexual assault victim”. Her case first became famous because of widespread public criticism of the judgment. Despite there being witnesses to the assault, as Miller lay unconscious behind some bins after a frat party at Stanford University and despite Turner being convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault, he was sentenced to only six months in prison, of which he served three. The judge said he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a “promising athlete”. And second, because of Miller’s powerful, detailed, victim statement. “I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me.” There are echoes of Miller’s experience in Unbelievable, as there are, inevitably, in all accounts of violence against women. The series opens with Marie’s rape and unravels from there, as minor inconsistencies in the victim’s story lead police to charge her with false reporting, before it becomes clear that the rapist has attacked again.

I’m often left hoppy and bitter when rape is a theme in my nightly telly, another body, another drink. But lately that agitation has moved upwards, to a place where I can recognise it as energy. As something useful, even positive. Horror stories rarely have happy endings, but it does feel, doesn’t it, that a change is due. As grim and worrying as the figures are, the swell of social change, and the new clarity of storytelling, must, surely, drag the rest of the world along with it.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/13/traumatic-plotlines-are-shifting-national-debate-rape-sexual-assault

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We believe you

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article or Netflix Unbelievable, family attorneys SD Law have deep experience of helping women escape abusive relationships. If you have suffered sexual assault, and have been too scared to bring charges, we will support you through the process and help keep you safe. If you experience intimate partner violence, we can serve a protection order on your partner and  help you initiate divorce proceedings, if appropriate. We will connect you to relevant support services. At Cape Town Divorce Attorneys, we will always believe you. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za for a confidential discussion. We can call you back on a safe number.

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