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A Tacit ‘ME TOO’ Amidst COVID-19: Virtual Sexual Harassment – Employment and HR | #womenincybersecurity | #womenhackers | #cybersecurity | #informationsecurity



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“Intentional cultivation of workplace culture matters, and
none of us should let that fall away in the adjustment to a new
norm”1

Working from home, or telecommuting has become a compulsory
(furloughed) norm in the wake of social isolation amidst the
COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has entangled themselves in the ropes
of advanced technology, which has proven to be a boon in the 21st
century to keep pace with work. Whether, the profession is that of
a tutor/professor, a business-woman or a lawyer, keeping ourselves
connected with the people we come across in a workplace is
obligatory so as to meet the results of the organization. 

Hence, with one step forward to evolution, everybody has
switched to remote access to keep on with their lives, as some
amount of normalcy returns to an even otherwise perilous time. Even
organizations like WHO have declared that this new norm of
Work-from-home, should be embraced universally as soon as possible,
being the only solution going forward, as the world tackles the
dangerous pandemic that has taken many lives and has forced half of
the world into isolation.

After the Government of India declared lockdown 1.0 on 24th of
March 2020, it further extended on three occasions, keeping in mind
the world wide threat that the virus poses to people. Further, in
what seems like a boon to the mobile software industry, app based
organizations like Hangouts, Google duo, Zoom and Microsoft teams
have regained their lost popularity, to now being the only formal
grounds for holding meetings from stakeholders to teachers. We
might assume that this social distancing would remove the risks of
a hostile work environment. However, sexual harassment can take
place in any form of workplace. The main issue at hand is,
“Are wo(men) still safe in such working spheres given that
harassment could exist through virtual connectivity as
well?”

VIRTUAL HARASSMENT

Due to the rapid growth in industrialization and with the advent
of globalization and improvement in different fields, women in
India are taking up more and more opportunities. Today, women in
India are demonstrating progress in large numbers in workspaces
like instruction, financial aspects, governmental issues, media,
workmanship, space and culture, administration areas, science and
innovation, and so forth. As the job of women has moved from
household work to modern work, offenses against women have expanded
exponentially. In spite, of rising rates of sexual harassment,
their reporting is nearly nil as women dread the loss of
individuality and the fear of being subjected to unwarranted social
disgrace.

Sexual Harassment has been customary since time immemorial:
calling names, stalking, verbal or non-verbal harassment, demand
for sexual favours, etc. These problems were tackled through state
introduced mechanisms or the National Commission for women at
different places under various acts for protecting women from
physical abuse. However, online crimes against women which include
stalking and sending harassing and threatening mails/messages,
creation of fake accounts, revenge porn contents, non-consensual
sexual content, non-consensual image sharing, bullying, trolling,
online reputation damage cases have also started surfacing, which
are not given much concern.

India is a country where internet is cheap and readily available
but no progress has been observed to implement the same with
respect to the legal aspect especially during the lockdown. As is
the case, generally filing a complaint in police station does not
do much, because of the injustice meted to women at the hands of
police authorities.  Reporting the same to the organizations
would in essence be of no use considering the employers do not
usually have the technology back home to take up the matter during
quarantine.

Everyone has turned to the usage of the video calling for
conferencing with people, which has made applications like Zoom,
WhatsApp, Microsoft teams, Hangouts, etc popular. For the purpose
of imparting education or for taking lectures-based classes and
sharing study materials, reference materials and for entertainment
purposes for some during online classes. However, as it goes with
human nature, things can easily fall into the wrong hands and as
such there has been a growing rise in virtual harassment through
these media based technological platforms, especially during the
present ever extending lockdown.

Female teachers and faculties has increasingly reported about
privacy infringement and cyber security all over the world2, as a students conduct of the
misbehavior remains unknown because applications like Zoom which
allow users  to use any username with their video off. Passing
lewd comments, bullying, trolling, cyber flashing (forcefully
sending unsolicited pictures of private parts)3 and
disruptive communications, all of which become a medium to break
the class ambience.

In India, the law is quiet in such manner as taking of screen
shots don’t fall under the classification of voyeurism or
protection infringement as addressed to under Section 354C of the
Indian Penal Code and 66E of the Information Technology Act, both
tending to voyeurism. Thus, these cases are not legally addressed
as there exists no mechanism for control of grievances of the like,
and are waived off on the basis of general technological mishap and
misunderstanding.

VISHAKA GUIDELINES ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT4

Sexual harassment includes such unwelcoming sexually determined
behavior (whether directly or by implication) as:

a) Physical contact and advances;

b) A demand or request for sexual favors;

c) Sexually coloured remarks;

d) Showing pornography;

e) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of
sexual nature

From these above guidelines, we can conclude that Sexual
Harassment does not particularly require physical contact, it can
even be done virtually over any medium, whether it in private or on
a public platform. The idea behind such an act reflects the mindset
of the perpetrator and that remains uniform across all mediums,
irrespective of the situation.

VISHAKA GUIDELINES ON WORKPLACE

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013
(“POSH”) has introduced the term and
concept of ‘extension of workplace’ which includes any
place the female worker will be visiting for the sole purpose
arising out of the employment, including transport for commuting to
and fro. Nonetheless it has not expressively included the concept
of virtual workplace, as the same is a newly introduced concept in
the Indian work sphere, which must be interpreted as the need of
the hour. It has become increasingly necessary as women are losing
their own privacy and facing sexual harassment on a daily basis
only because they are required to fulfil the designated work so
given.

The High Court of Rajasthan, while delivering this landmark
judgment5, observed that the following factors would
have bearing on determining whether the act has occurred in the
‘workplace’:

  • Proximity from the place of work;
  • Control of the management over such a place/residence where the
    working woman is residing; and
  • If such a residence is an extension or contiguous part of the
    working place.

No working environment is free from harassment whether it is
sexual or non-sexual, from the floor of a house to the office of
big company or to the shop of the retailer and because sexual
harassment does not have to be physical, it can be meted out in any
form, using any means.

Sexual Harassment continues to be an issue for workers in the
new work from home culture, similarly as it has been for workers
who have worked remotely for quite a long time or for an
association that are altogether a virtual setup. The manner in
which sexual harassment arises when we are working remotely, is
same as what we find in the any workplace. A misogynistic and
sexist’ mindset often tends to reveal the interchanges sooner
than expected, regardless of whether they’re in the following
desk area or in the Slack channel or exposing themselves on video
chats or sexting. However the signs we see may be unique sometimes,
but in the end, women have always been subjected to abject
treatment as ‘sexual predators’. These days women have
become suddenly become susceptible to increased virtual
bedevilment. The same needs to be checked in regularity for
prosecution to be done at the earliest.

Anonymity behind the fibre/internet closed doors has become a
safe haven, as the misogynist lot ask their female co-mates to VC
them when matters of trivial nature can be tackled through an audio
call. They make it difficult for women by reasoning the same to be
a formal outdo which can only be tackled on video, thus making it a
hostile working environment for the female workers and not just for
the time being but even after the lockdown is lifted, thus, leaving
no room to security for any person whatsoever.

CONCLUSION

India is quickly progressing in its formative goals and an
ever-increasing number of women are switching to corporate work
structures. The distinguishing proof of the privilege to security
against sexual harassment is an inherent part of the assurance of
women’s human rights. It is a stage towards giving a woman
-autonomy, equality of opportunity and the privilege to work with
respect in a dignified manner. Sexual harassment in the
work-from-home environment is a social and legitimate test that
should be tended to, in immediacy.

During the pandemic every technological aspect has been solved
from proper communication all over the world to a different package
system of the net usage at a cheaper and an affordable rate with
good internet services. Going by the news, we notice there has been
appraisal call out in all those companies sponsoring the social
media sites. In actuality what these technological set-ups are
missing, is the safety that should be provided for all genders, the
law abidance and an easy procedure to make delivery of justice a
faster cause because “Justice delayed is Justice
denied”.

Further, the redressal mechanism established under the Act,
provides for strict timelines which are to be adhered by the
internal committee and the employer of the organization. During
these present situations we have become technologically friendly
and are working from home through various electronic devices. To
deal with virtual sexual harassment in the present and future
coming times, a member in the internal committee being well-versed
with cyber and IT laws should be made a member who can deal and
manage cases in relation to virtual harassment. Simultaneously, the
Government should encourage Companies to bring forward a new code
of conduct for work from home, as the practice here deserves sea
change regulations.

Preventive measures, and lawful system on forestalling should be
made compulsary. Dispersal, circularizing and awareness raising
activities ought to be normally conducted and assessed so as to
improve practices and to address inappropriate behavior in the
working environment, and furthermore admonish such evils. Education
with regard to different types of sexual harassment must be put in
place to dodge potential casualties.

“While a murder destroys the physical frame of the victim,
sexual harassment degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless
woman”.

Footnotes 

1 Sexual Harassment Still Happens When You Work from Home
During a Pandemic., Robin Swirling,https://medium.com/swlh/sexual-harassment-still-happens-when-you-work-from-home-during-a-pandemic-3bba3e230399

2 See Drew Harwell (2020). Thousands of Zoom video calls
left exposed on open web. Published inhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/03/thousands-zoom-video-calls-left-exposed-open-web/?fbclid=IwAR1M3yRTYKqUuDJhP0rZLz_z8yDcwrZ5CgQN2yzlsgGA2awhPIEOF31CQlA&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook
on April 3.2020. Retrieve  on 07-04-2020

3 See Zoe Betty (2019) WHY THE UK NEEDS TO TAKE
CYBER-FLASHING SERIOUSLY. Published in https://www.thetimes.co.uk/magazine/style/why-the-uk-needs-to-take-cyber-flashing-seriously-73c0r02f9
on 08-12-2019. Retrieved on 04.04.2020

4 1997 6 SCC 241: AIR 1997 SC 3011

5 Supra

6 Sexual Harassment At Workplace Is An Affront to
Women’s Fundamental Rights: SC, by Damini Singh Chauhan,
Semester 9th, The Law School, University of Jammu,
http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1858-sexual-harassment-at-workplace-is-an-affront-to-women-s-fundamental-rights-sc.html

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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