Deal with harassment firmly

SURVIVOR: Pastor Nonqaba Mosunkutu is dealing with the trauma. Pic. Munyadziwa Nemutudi. 11/12/07. © Sowetan.
SURVIVOR: Pastor Nonqaba Mosunkutu is dealing with the trauma. Pic. Munyadziwa Nemutudi. 11/12/07. © Sowetan.

Khanyisile Nkosi

Khanyisile Nkosi

Picking up the pieces after a case of sexual harassment might seem like an easy thing to do, but for the victim moving beyond the incident it is a daily struggle.

Pastor Nonqaba Mosunkutu, whose sexual harassment case against former MEC for social development Bob Mabaso was finalised this week, says moving on is not that easy.

"Yes there is life after abuse, but claiming your life back after such an incident is a challenge.

"The investigations have been completed and the verdict is out but that doesn't change what happened," said Mosunkutu.

Two years ago, Mosunkutu, wife of Gauteng MEC for agriculture, land and nature conservation, Khabisi Mosunkutu, laid a complaint of sexual harassment and attempted rape against fellow comrade and close family friend, Mabaso.

An internal investigation was instituted and Mabaso was this week cleared of the allegations.

Mosunkutu said speaking out was the beginning of the healing process for her.

"I would encourage women to come out and speak about abuse. Talking brings some sort of healing," she said.

Nonhlanhla Tshabalala, the acting director at the Sexual Harassment and Education Programme (Shep) in Braamfontein, said many women keep silent for fear of being subjected to secondary harassment.

Shep specialises in the prevention of and education about sexual harassment.

"Sexual harassment reduces a person to nothing because they suffer mentally, emotionally and physically," said Tshabalala.

Tshabalala said because most sexual harassment cases happen behind closed doors, proving the veracity of the claim often becomes difficult.

"People say sexual harassment cases are exaggerated and they don't believe the victim. It is usually the victim's word against the perpetrator's," said Tshabalala.

But this should not prevent women from coming out, said Mosunkutu.

"It is still a debatable issue. I feel we still need to go into dialogue about this," she said.

She said it took her more than a year to stand in the pulpit again.

"I could not pretend as if all was well. My family also suffered a lot. My daughter prayed a lot for me and my church was very supportive," she said, adding that a good support system is what every victim needs to cope with the trauma.

With the number of sexual harassment cases increasing, Tshabalala said, this indicates that employers are not turning a deaf ear to the issue.

"The research we did recently showed that only 20percent of the victims were not aware of the sexual harassment policy in their workplace. It is important that the employer formulates a clear policy on sexual harassment and communicates it to staff," she said.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. The unwanted nature of the act makes it different from behaviour that is welcome and mutual.

Sexual attention becomes sexual harassment if:

l The behaviour continues over time, though a single incident is also considered sexual harassment;

l The person who is being harassed has made it clear that the behaviour is offensive;

l The perpetrator should have known that the behaviour is unacceptable.

The harassment can take the following forms:

nA verbal advance.

nA non-verbal advance.

nA physical advance.

Sexual favouritism is where only those who accept the boss's advances are promoted.

The harassment can include gestures, suggestions, sexist and insulting jokes, assault and sexual assault.

What to do if you are sexually harassed?

You can deal with the harassment formally or informally.

The informal procedure: Speak to the person harassing you directly. Take a friend or a co-worker with you when you do this. Explain that the behaviour in question is not welcome - that it offends you, makes you feel uncomfortable and makes it hard for you to work effectively.

Put your complaint in writing and keep a copy of your letter.

You should also keep any correspondence the one guilty of harassment sends you, and keep a record of any incidents.

The formal procedure:

The formal approach involves lodging a grievance with your employer, or laying a criminal charge if the harassment has been severe (or both).

The complaint to the employer must be in writing and include as much detail as possible.

Your harasser will be informed of the complaint.

Your employer must investigate the complaint and hold an inquiry.

Your harasser will be given a chance to defend himself.

Your employer must take action once your grievance has been lodged.

If your complaint is not resolved or if your employer ignores your complaint, you should refer the matter to the CCMA for conciliation. If the CCMA process fails, the matter will be referred to the labour court.

(Additional information from