For the guys there was a huge risk factor involved. There was a fair chance the commuters on the bus would band together and beat the living day lights out of them. But that was what Reach Out and Beyond Borders had set find out when we conducted disruptive theatre in buses recently.
Despite it being a nerve-wrecking social experiment, disruptive theatre was dynamic way to gather research for our campaign against harassment of women in public places.
The skit was simple. We planted a designated perpetrator and victim on popular bus routes and enacted a typical harassment scenario. A few team ‘observers’ stationed about the purlieus discreetly made a record of how Sri Lanka bystanders- male or female, young or old, reacted.
After 6 disruptive theatre skits over four weekends, in buses as well as public places (shopping malls like Majestic City), we had sound qualitative evidence to suggest that Sri Lankans are somewhat indifferent when in the vicinity of street harassment or they simply didn’t know how to react.
On one occasion a female passenger offered her seat to our victim. Apart from that our perpetrator was shot a few glaring looks of disapproval from both men and women but that was as far as the bystanders would go.
Going by our research it’s clear that Sri Lankans need to be educated on how to react appropriately, if we wish to make Colombo a safer place for women. They also need to be made aware of the gravity of street harassment; the damaging long term psychological effects it has on women. Further research indicated that many Sri Lankans are oblivious to the law enforced against street harassment and the possible 5 year imprisonment sentence that entails it.
More information on advisable and safe ways to react to street harassment, whether you witness it or you’re a victim of it, check out the ReachOut Facebook page- http://www.facebook.com/reachoutnow
Note: All participating BBites and ReachOut members emerged from the disruptive theatre with their limbs intact; completely unharmed save for a few accidentally squished toes.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is an act of a sexual nature using assault, criminal force, or words or actions, which causes annoyance or pain of mind to the person being harassed.
It can include
- unwelcome physical contact and advances
- words or comments of a sexual nature that makes the person hearing it uncomfortable
- dirty jokes and obscene gestures
- showing pornographic material
- demanding or requesting sexual favours
- circulation of abusive emails
- any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non – verbal conduct of sexual nature
Sexual harassment can occur in the work place or in public places such as in buses.
Both men and women can be guilty of sexual harassment.
What a Victim of Sexual Harassment
SHOULD NOT DO
|tell the harasser to stop||ignore it|
|complain to authorities||laugh it off|
|confront the harasser|
Victims Ignore Sexual Harassment
- of an environment that does not encourage complaints
- the fear of making matters worse
- the fear of harm to one’s name
- its acceptance as a common occurrence in the workplace
- of lack of awareness about legal relief
- of the absence of sexual harassment prevention policies in the workplace
- of the common practice of blaming victims rather than the aggressor
- of low self esteem
Sexual harassment is an offence in the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 1995 (section 345).
The offence is described as: “Harassment of a sexual nature using assault, criminal force, or words or actions which causes annoyance to the person being harassed.”
The punishment for the offence is
- imprisonment with or without hard labour for any period up to five (5) years, or
- a fine, or
- imprisonment and fine imposed together.
The perpetrator can be ordered to pay compensation to the person against whom the offence was committed.
Encouraging or condoning sexual harassment is also a crime under the law.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Case
- Make an entry at the nearest Police Station
- The Police will then conduct investigations
- The Police will decide, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Department whether or not to file action in court.