He was a quiet and reserved colleague but behind the shy front, he had more brazen intentions.Lee, 28, was a newly-hired assistant manager in a multi-national company last year, when she met Kevin, a 38-year-old IT executive.Kevin, she says, did not speak much in person but added her on Facebook and messaged her sometimes.“I thought it was harmless and he was just shy. He seemed more comfortable chatting online,” says Lee, who adds that even though they were in the lift together, Kevin would not speak to her.
In another incident, a public relations executive known only as Casey, accompanied her general manager to have dinner with a client and his wife.“During dinner, my general manager made jokes about a woman’s breasts. He also kept staring at another woman, remarking how beautiful her legs were,” says the 30-year-old.“I felt so embarrassed. How could my boss talk to our clients in such a manner?” Casey says.During their company’s durian party, the general manager found out that Casey had a boyfriend.When they ordered other fruits, he made another joke with Casey, saying that she would love bananas since she had told her boyfriend she liked his “banana.”“I didn’t report him to the company immediately but when I resigned, I told the company everything during my exit interview,” Casey says.
The company’s executive director then apologised to Casey.While the cases may vary in severity, psychiatrists say sexual harassment leave serious effects on the victims.Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says in some cases, victims feel so “violated” that it can be compared to that of a victim being raped.“Any form of sexual harassment can have deep psychological scars. Work performance can take a dip, victims lose self-confidence and may develop clinical depression.
“Many who are continuously harassed but are unable to vent complain of low mood, lethargy, no motivation and may even be suicidal in certain cases,” he says.Dr Andrew recalls a victim being forced to sleep with her boss if she wanted to keep her job and felt so violated that she was rushed to the hospital after a drug overdose one day.He says most sexual harassment cases go unreported as victims fear they would be blamed.“The victim may be accused of being overtly friendly towards the culprit. Some also fear they would be regarded as the troublemaker, making a fuss over a ‘small’ issue,” he says.
Universiti Malaya consultant psychiatrist Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari says victims of continuous harassment may end up suffering from depressive disorders.“They go home feeling upset and if they are married, they may be afraid of what their husbands may say. Some also fear their reputation may be affected and end up bottling up their problems.“It would then be like a time bomb and they may suddenly have an emotional outburst,” he says.Dr Muhammad Muhsin urges employers to recognise sexual harassment as a potential problem in the workplace.
“If someone new is hired, the company should inform them what to do in the event of such cases,” he says, and adds that harassment is also easily committed over the telephone and Internet.