Being Sexually Harassed: What To Do?

Recent news has taught us that sexual harassment at the gym is still alive and well in Singapore. A video of a young woman being groped by her trainer during a workout session was uploaded on Instagram by one of the gym’s freelance fitness trainers, Cheryl Loh. According to Cheryl, the victim had revealed to her that she was uncomfortable with how the alleged perpetrator was touching her inappropriately despite telling him to stop multiple times. Since the news broke out, the gym has taken action and banned said trainer due to his misconduct. 

Although this event is unfortunate and regrettable, it is not shocking. Statistics have shown that among 1,045 Singaporeans who took part in this survey, 26% of women and 9% of men have experienced sexual harassment as of June 2019. Note that not all of the sexual harassment victims took it to their hands to report the issue. In fact, numbers have revealed that women (56%) are more likely to report sexual harassment incidents compared to men (40%). This is mainly due to fear of embarrassment (42%), fear of repercussion (30%) and feeling that no individuals will take action (29%).

How to determine if you are being sexually harassed?

We do not have a set definition of sexual harassment here in Singapore. However, that does not mean that sexual misconducts go unpunished. The Penal Code and Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) governs certain acts of harassment. While the Penal Code legislates acts that are specifically sexual in nature, POHA mainly covers non-sexual harassments. The act of stalking, for example, may not be sexual in nature but can be, when involved with threatening, abusive, insulting words or behaviours that can cause a feeling of alarm or distress to the victim. 

Simply put, sexual harassment refers to the making of any unwelcome sexual advances, be it verbally, physically or even virtually. It can happen almost anywhere and to anyone. If you ever find yourself stuck in an uncomfortable situation while the other person is making sexual remarks or gestures, you are probably dealing with sexual harassment.

Here is what you can do when faced with sexual harassment

1. Lodge a police report

Seems like a simple solution but many victims can’t bring themselves to lodge a police report due to the reasons mentioned above. Rather than going to the police, victims are more likely to keep it to themselves, or at best, tell their trusted loved ones. If you do decide to take the matter to the police, there are two legal actions you can take, namely criminal action and civil action.

  • Criminal Action
    If the police have investigated and believe that an offence has been committed, the offender will be charged in court. However, if the police decided not to take further actions, you can file a Magistrate’s Complaint to commence private prosecution. If you were authorised to prosecute the offender and the offender is convicted, they can be sentenced to jail by the judge.

  • Civil Action
    Depending on what you are seeking, you can choose to sue the offender either under the tort of battery, assault, or the civil remedies under POHA, which includes protection orders. If you want them to stay away from you or take something down from the internet, POHA allows you to file the complaint without a lawyer.

    Compared to a criminal suit, it is easier to win a civil suit as the threshold is lower. Nonetheless, do note that since it is a private action, you need to conduct your own civil proceedings. You may hire a lawyer for this but it might cost you more. Losing the case would also mean you can be liable for the other party’s legal costs. Lacking evidence? Don’t worry. You are not fighting a losing battle for a complainant’s credibility can be tested via her consistency.

2. Seek professional help

In Singapore, we have the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) that can help you make sense of what to do and how to deal with sexual harassment. Last year, AWARE launched a Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory (WHDA) to help provide a safe space for individuals facing harassments at work. Although AWARE caters mainly to women, they also provide emotional and practical support to men who have experienced sexual harassments.

If you were sexually harassed at the gym or mall, find the person in charge to file a complaint. Same goes to when you are in your workplace, seek help from your respective Human Resource representative. This method could at least help you figure out what to do when faced in such situations.

3. Tell somebody you trust

If you still find it difficult to lodge a report or go to the person in charge, you can (and should) consult with someone whom you trust. Create a safe space between you and the other person and share with them what exactly happened. This might mean that no actions will be taken towards the offender, but letting it out will at least help you progress in your healing journey. 

Speaking up about sexual harassment is never easy for anybody. However, your story might just help others overcome theirs.