We Asked A Lawyer What You Should Do In A Sexual Harassment Situation

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The most important objective of all is to make the perpetrator stop. If you're experiencing sexual harassment, here’s what you should do legally.

Related: The Truth About Gender-Based Violence In The Time Of Corona

Trigger warning: This article contains material about sexual and dating violence.

“What if it happened to me?” is the haunting question we don’t want to ask ourselves after learning about a new sexual harassment case. It’s scary to even think about it, because I wouldn’t know what to do. That’s the thing, most sexual harassment victims don’t know what to do. Maybe that’s why it was found by three professors in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies in Boston that for every 100 rapes and sexual assaults of teenage girls and women reported to police, only 18 lead to an arrest. Statistics from Plan International may even suggest that it’s even worse here. According to their study, over half (68%) of girls and young women have experienced online harassment. Not only that, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority have shown that rape cases have increased by 30.6% from 2018 to 2019.

This fact has been a great source of fear and anxiety for most of us, so we decided to educate ourselves in the matter by asking for advice from a lawyer. Here’s what Atty. Heinz told us to do during a sexual harassment situation.

The situation: Your superior places a hand on your shoulder in an inappropriate manner.

Type of sexual harassment: Physical
In The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, it is stipulated that physical sexual harassment includes: (a) Malicious touching, (b) Overt sexual advances, and (c) Gestures with lewd insinuation. There are many forms of physical harassment and victims may experience it anywhere (i.e. the office, school, at home, etc.).

What you should do?

Atty. Heinz says, “The victim must be able to say, 'Don’t do that.' The enemy of sexual harassment is a clear no. If you’re not sending the message loud and clear to the perpetrator, the person will think it’s okay with you and use that argument against you in court (if it ever gets to that). If you’re in the situation where it’s difficult to say no, the next best thing is to report the incident to the proper authority right after it has taken place.”

The situation: A person comments on your physical attributes in an obviously inappropriate manner. For example, a colleague says, “Your butt looks really good in that skirt.”

Type of sexual harassment: Verbal , such as but not limited to, requests or demands for sexual favors, and lurid remarks.
Verbal harassment can be tricky. Many may not even be able to tell if a remark is considered harassment. The problem with society right now is that it doesn’t have a clear understanding of what “obviously inappropriate” means. As a result, the perpetrators abuse the failure of society. There are different types of verbal abuses, so you need to be mindful.

What you should do?

Atty. Heinz says, “Again, the first thing that you should do is to send the message right there. Say, 'I am offended by what you said. Please don’t say that again.' If the perpetrator continues, then report the incident to the proper authority. If perpetrator stops, then you still have the option to report the incident.”

The situation: The perpetrator keeps sending you unsolicited pictures, leaves objects with sexual innuendos on your desk, sends you internet links to pornographic sites, or photoshops your public photos.

Type of sexual harassment: Use of objects, pictures or graphics, letters or written notes with sexual underpinnings.
In any kind of situation, the biggest mistake that a victim can do is to act like it’s funny or to make a joke out of it. There are times when objects, pictures, or letters with sexual underpinnings are shown to us that make us feel uncomfortable, but we brush it off as a joke. Sometimes, we may even retaliate with a snarky comeback. If the situation makes you feel uneasy in any type of way, it’s best to take it seriously.

What you should do?

Atty. Heinz says, “The first thing that you should do in this situation is to save the evidence or take a picture of it. Then, you must go to the perpetrator and show the evidence that you saved. Tell the perpetrator to stop doing it, because you are offended by it and you do not like it. A lot of victims might say, 'Stop doing this. I’ll report you to the police.' That’s not all together wrong. I’m just saying it has to be complete. Make it clear that you don’t like it.”

The situation: You are applying for a job. During the job interview, the interviewer asks you to try on the company uniform. You are made to wear the uniform and walk in front of the interviewer.

Type of sexual harassment: Other forms analogous to the foregoing
If you are not being verbally or physically harassed and there is no physical evidence being sent to you, then your case may fall under “other forms analogous to the foregoing.” It’s easy involved in this situation, because it is usually done in an inconspicuous way. If you ever catch yourself double guessing a certain scenario, then ask yourself why should you follow through?

What you should do?

Atty. Heinz says, “The duties and responsibilities of the employee will almost certainly not include the fit of uniforms on an employee. First off, you should consider walking away from this employer. The fact that they need to see you in a uniform prior to employment is already a big red flag. You wouldn’t want to work in a place like that. In the event that you are in need of a job badly, ask the perpetrator to explain the purpose of dressing up and say you don’t want to try on the uniform prior to employment.”

The situation: A couples goes out on a date. They down a couple of drinks. One of them gets tipsy. Once they get back to the car. The perpetrator starts kissing the victim and forces the victim down. The victim panics and pushes away the perpetrator. The perpetrator is able to pin the victim down to force sexual intercourse.

Type of crime: Rape
Article 266-A of the law defines rape as "an act of sexual assault" by any person either by "inserting his penis into another person's mouth or anal orifice" or inserting "any instrument or object, into the genital or anal orifice of another person.” But did you know that male rape was only acknowledged under Philippine law in 1997. However, rape against males are only considered by law as rape by sexual assault, which carries a lesser penalty of six to 12 years as opposed to the same act against females, which are penalized by life imprisonment.

What you should do?

Atty. Heinz says, “You do not have any obligation to have sexual intercourse with your partner. If your partner has the right feelings for you, your partner will respect what you want and what you don’t want, especially when it comes to sex. If you say no, your partner should not force it. Take note that you should say no. Pushing, crying, or scratching are nice to have, but it is not equivalent to saying no. The victim’s testimony in court is given a lot of weight by the judge. So much so, if you actually said no, the judge would believe you. Most judges will know if a rape victim is lying. Additionally, the amount of repelling will help your case. At any time during the intercourse, if you show any sign of satisfaction or enjoyment—there goes your rape case.”

The situation: An 11-year-old who looks 18 with a fake social media account meets an 18-year-old partner online. They form a relationship and engage in sexual intercourse.

Type of crime: Statutory Rape
Just last November, the House of Representatives approved on second reading a bill raising the age of statutory rape from 12 to 16. Under Philippine law, statutory rape is non-forcible sexual activity in which one of the individuals is below the age of consent or the age required to legally consent to the behavior. The current age of consent is 13 years old and above.

What you should do?

Atty. Heinz says, “The premise of society is that 11-year-olds would not know what’s good for them. It’s important to know who you’re dating. If you’re the parent of the 11-year-old, you’re going to be confronted with so many questions in your mind. Will I send the perpetrator to jail? Will I expose my 11-year-old child to a rape trial? Will I just walk away from it and pretend it never happened? Unfortunately, there is no textbook step-by-step guideline on what to do. The test is easier said than done. What is best for your child?”

The situation: You go to a party and you see someone getting raped

Your position: Witness
Under the law, if you are a witness to rape and you didn’t do anything to stop it there is a probability of you going to jail as an accomplice. You might want to watch Jodie Foster’s award winning 1998 movie, The Accused, to remind you of this.

What you should do?

Atty. Heinz says, “First thing you do is you have to do something to stop it. Next thing you do is you have to report it as it was. The law recognizes if you were being threatened to keep your mouth shut, but this excuse will have to be proven by you in court.”