By Majd Othman
KUWAIT: Women in Kuwait are exposed to sexual harassment at their workplaces, but many prefer not to complain to the administration or file a case due to several reasons, such as the fear of losing their jobs or being blamed by their colleagues, who may not believe them. They also fear a scandal among their community that does not accept such cases. Meanwhile, these women continue to face great pressure due to the harassment that they are exposed to, especially from a serial harasser who could be a colleague or even the boss.
Kuwait Times spoke to consultant and lawyer Jaber Al-Hababi and discussed with him the legal aspects of this issue. Hababi affirmed the presence of sexual harassment cases in Kuwaiti courts by women against men, but said this issue cannot be considered a phenomenon due to a dearth of cases filed. He explained the main problem facing women during the process of filing the cases is to prove that the incident happened, whether it is verbal or physical harassment or abuse in some cases.
Several reports have been published previously warning women they could face accountability if they record a video or take a picture of the harasser (without his permission) to prove the incident they are exposed to. But Hababi said Kuwaiti law supports women in this matter, as such videos or pictures can be considered in court as evidence, adding some cases were built by relying on these.
Hababi said from a legal point of view, there are several types of cases that fall under sexual harassment, such as seducing a female employee with position or money, or preventing her from getting a raise if she doesn’t heed the harasser’s requests, which is considered extortion for personal benefit.
Regarding punishment for the harasser, he said according to Kuwaiti law, the penalty for sexual harassment without indecent assault is up to 10 years in jail, while in the event of indecent assault or rape, it reaches up to 15 years in jail. But Hababi noted that women in Kuwait enjoy an independent lifestyle and have a strong personality that help them to not rely on men or the law to protect themselves from sexual harassers, and have the ability to end harassment without filing a case or complaint.
Feelings of discomfort
Sexual harassment can be subjective and might be measured in feelings of discomfort. Some inappropriate workplace conduct can be subtle and include things like unwanted touching that the harasser tries to disguise as an accident or innuendos.
Unwelcome physical contact
Some harassers use unwelcome touching as a way to target victims in the workplace. A co-worker might brush against you and claim that it was an accident, but does this sort of thing repeatedly.
Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination and is illegal when it occurs in the workplace. One sign that sexual harassment might be occurring is if you receive different treatment than others based on your sex.
‘No’ not accepted
If someone makes unwanted advances to you at work when you have already declined, it can become illegal sexual harassment. If your co-worker has let you know that he is interested in pursuing a romantic relationship and persists even though you have declined, that could indicate sexual harassment.
Sexual jokes or displays of sexual images
In some cases, a person will tell sexual jokes or display pornographic images at work. If someone behaves in this way at your job, you could be the victim of sexual harassment even if the person is not pursuing you for a sexual relationship. This type of conduct has no place at work and should not be tolerated.
If you have declined a supervisor’s sexual advances at your job, you might feel as if your job might be in danger. Just like sexual harassment, retaliation for turning down unwelcome sexual advances is also illegal.
If the environment at your workplace makes you feel unsafe because of its sexual nature, that indicates that you might be the victim of sexual harassment. If you feel that you are exposed to any type of these sexual harassment signs, here are some defensive behaviors that would help preventing their unethical actions.
Talk to him directly
Tell those who harass you directly and clearly to stop such actions, or else you will file a complaint with the administration. Some people stop directly if they are threatened.
Find other victims
Talk to some of your other co-workers who have been harassed by the same person. The presence of another victim may strengthen your position and support the complaint request that you want to submit to the administration.
Use a calm yet firm tone
When you talk about harassment in the workplace and when you bring up the law, don’t get emotional and carried away by screams and threats. Just be calm and confident enough, and use a firm and confident tone of voice.
Try to keep some evidence of harassment
Such as pictures, messages, inappropriate comments, or those that contain sexual hints, but do not try to register your harasser without his knowledge. Because this clause is against the law. For more details, you should ask a legal specialist in labor issues in the country in which you work.
Do not wait for things to escalate
Try to stop harassment in the work environment from its inception, by talking legally. Do not pretend to be completely silent and afraid; so that the harasser does not think that you are afraid or satisfied with what is happening.
Don’t quit your job
It is not recommended to withdraw from the workplace where the harassment occurred, but rather to stand firm and act confidently in front of the harassing manager or colleague, because you are the victim, not the harasser. In this situation, remember, the one who has to leave is the harasser and the bully, not you.