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How to respond to harassment?

August 16 2012, 17:44

An outrageous thing happened to one woman during her visit to one of the famous dentist’s of the city:
“I faced sexual harassment in the dentist’s I was attending. During the treatment process the dentist stroked my face, put his hand on my chest and rubbed his groin area against my arm. Believe me, I have enough life experience to distinguish random touches from a harassment. At the first opportunity I paid the fee and left the room. If I argued at the place they would take me for avoiding payment. I calmed down at home and phoned to the clinic to complain about the dentist. They told that he admitted his mistake and he wanted to apologize. But he didn’t. Why a clinic with good reputation admits having an employee with pathologic propensity, but doesn’t  do anything to sort this? In my case the situation ended up with harassment only. What would happen if there was a much younger woman in my place? What we, women, may do in such situations, given that it is a public opinion that sexually harassed women generally provoke harassment?”
Gulsim SABIROVA, a lawyer, comments on the situation:
- A woman gets scared when she faces harassment or sexual violence. It may later turn to long-term psychological effects. Unfortunately, most of abused women never apply to police because they don’t believe they would be understood, but fear to be taken for provokers of the sexual abuse. Often it is the publicity what scares them the most. To the woman in such situation I would advise not to fear to openly protect herself. Ignoring, fear and indecision may complicate the situation.  Rapists often employ sexual harassment in order to check if a targeted woman is able to resist. Therefore one should act decisively when noticed the first signs of sexual harassment. It is often enough to firmly say ‘no’ in response. When refusing look straight into his eyes and don’t look away!
Take your cell phone and switch on the video or audio function. Tell him you are recording the situation to avoid further misunderstanding. Usually such behavior gives effective results. You can invite your friends or employees of the clinic or simply stranger people to the room. Tell him you want to continue the treatment in their presence. If you want to punish the harasser bear in mind that it is difficult to prove abuses without evidences. An abuser wouldn’t voluntarily admit his guilt, apologize and change his behavior. Tell the story to the management in presence of witnesses. Meantime write down everything witnesses say as clearly as possible.  Leave a complaint to the management and get your copy signed. Then apply to police with a letter of complaint. Make sure an administrative case is initiated. If you find no success in police, go to prosecutor’s office. Remember that in order to lodge a claim to protect the dignity and compensate moral damage you need to have your abuser found guilty by the established legal procedures.
If harassment turns to sexual violence it becomes penal offence. In this case make sure you submit a written complaint to police. If you have physical injuries insist on medical examination. If police refuses to refer you to a medical expert go to your doctor. Tell your doctor everything. Make sure everything is included in a report. Do not take shower nor change your clothes because there may be evidences on your clothes and body. Get them photographed. Ask for a female detective. If the abuser threatens or offers money, immediately tell your detective or the prosecutor. If possible, voice record the threatening or offers or find a witness. Demand confidentiality from the prosecutor during the investigation process.
Investigation and court proceedings on such criminal cases last quite long. During this time you may feel fear, helplessness and loneliness. Often the victims plunge into depression, sense of guilt and anger at self. You may doubt in necessity to continue the investigation. But you should always remember that it is not your mistake, it is the criminal who violated the law, and he is responsible, but not you.  
As a practicing lawyer I can say, unfortunately, the rate of criminal cases related to sexual abuse in Atyrau is increasing year to year.

By Laura SULEIMENOVA

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