Weinstein scandal: Why is sexual harassment by people in positions of power so prevalent?

Multiple allegations of sexual harassment and rape have surfaced time and again against powerful and influential men in the country.
Weinstein scandal: Why is sexual harassment by people in positions of power so prevalent?
Weinstein scandal: Why is sexual harassment by people in positions of power so prevalent?
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Multiple women have accused Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and these allegations range over a 20-year period. Said to be ‘an 'open secret’ in the industry, the recent revelations have led to people to ask why it takes someone in a place of power to call a perpetrator out.

The pattern is all too common. A person in a position of power sexually harasses or assaults someone subordinate to them, especially one whose career the former has considerable influence over.

Though this is not limited to women alone -- Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Terry Crews alleged that he was groped by a top-level Hollywood executive -- women, however, far outnumber men in such situations.

After his perpetrator apologised to him, Terry decided to let go of the incident because he didn't want to be ostracised.

"I decided not 2 take it further becuz I didn’t want 2b ostracized— par 4 the course when the predator has power n influence. I let it go. And I understand why many women who this happens to let it go (sic)" Terry wrote, echoing a sentiment that is one of the many reasons women find it hard to speak out against someone in a position of power.

Instances of women who allege sexual harassment, abuse and assault by men in positions of power have been shared or reported enough times to warrant our attention to a very serious issue.

And no, this is not a West-specific problem. Because patriarchy, sexism and misogyny are not country-specific problems. 

From the CEO of a rising entertainment startup to the head of a policy research organisation, an editor-in-chief of a noteworthy magazine to a professor at one of the country's premier film institutes, multiple allegations of sexual harassment and rape have surfaced against powerful and influential men in the country time and again. 

And in all these case, the complainants or victims are much younger women who hold a comparatively lower post in the organisation or study under the accused. The power dynamics are clearly not in their favour. 

In June, Arunabh Kumar, former CEO of The Viral Fever, had to step down after an anonymous blog alleged that he had molested an employee of his organisation. Several other women came forward with similar allegations and at least two FIRs were registered against him. Kumar has denied all allegations against him.

However, soon after the blog went viral, in an interview to Mumbai Mirror, he had infamously said, "I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she's sexy - but this is only done in my personal capacity. I compliment women in my personal space and not at the workplace. Is that wrong?"

Tarun Tejpal, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka, has been accused of sexually assaulting a junior female colleague in the elevator of a hotel in north Goa during an event in November 2013. 

Tejpal has been charged under sections 342 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (rape), among others and in September this year, a Goa court formally framed charges against him in the case.

A letter, that the survivor wrote, drives home the point that women who choose to "speak up" risk losing much more than just their jobs. 

"Unlike Mr. Tejpal, I am not a person of immense means. I have been raised singlehandedly by my mother's single income. My father's health has been very fragile for many years now. Unlike Mr. Tejpal, who is fighting to protect his wealth, his influence and his privilege, I am fighting to preserve nothing except for my integrity and my right to assert that my body is my own and not the plaything of my employer. By filing my complaint, I have lost not just a job that I loved, but much-needed financial security and the independence of my salary. I have also opened myself to personal and slanderous attack. This will not be an easy battle," she had said in her letter

A student of Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI), who has accused a professor of raping her in 2014, had in an earlier interview to TNM said, "I was very scared. I found it very difficult to speak about it with my friends. I did not think anyone would support me as I was complaining against officials who held powerful posts in the institute." 

What's perhaps even more shocking is the lack of support and empathy, and sometimes the cold shoulder given to complainants. 

In 2015, a former employee of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), who had accused former director-general of the Institute RK Pachauri of sexual harassment, resigned stating she had been treated in the "worst possible manner" in her workplace. 

In a letter of resignation, she wrote, "Your organisation has treated me in the worst possible manner. TERI failed to uphold my interests as an employee, let alone protecting them. The organisation has instead protected R K Pachauri and provided him with full immunity, despite being held guilty of sexual harassment at the work place by your own inquiry committee... You changed my work profile and played deaf to my requests for not doing so. I was given ZERO EXPLANATION of taking such an action and none of my emails/requests were heeded to. I only got vague responses. I refuse to be associated with an organisation such as yours for the way you have mistreated me, for not standing by the law, for not having respect for my capabilities, for doing NOTHING to ensure that my career is not harmed and instead harmed me mentally, professionally and economically."

Former Greenpeace employee Sonam Mittal wrote a detailed post in which she described how an older male employee had repeatedly sexually harassed her. Mittal adds that the man was a repeat offender, something that the management was already aware of.

"Senior employees have joked about my ‘character’ during official meetings, asking, “Who’s in her room today?” or “Is that person in her room, or in her?” People laughed, including those who would later constitute the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC),” Mittal wrote. The senior management ordered the harasser to apologise to her two years after the ordeal. After Mittal's post went viral, the Executive Director and Communications Director of Greenpeace had to resign.

 In 2013, AK Ganguly, a former Supreme Court judge, was accused of sexual harassment by a former intern.

Later that year, a committee of three SC judges found him guilty of the offence. The committee indicted him for "unwelcome behaviour" and "conduct of sexual nature" towards the intern. It however said that no action could be taken against him as he had retired before the incident.

Ganguly was forced to step down as the West Bengal Human Rights Commission chief and in 2015, it was reported that he allegedly revealed the name of the complainant in his new book.  

Earlier this year, V Shanmuganathan, the then Governor of Meghalaya, too had to resign from his post following allegations of sexual harassment. 

These are but just a handful of cases involving known names or the organisations they represent. The problem is just a tip of the iceberg and with no support system for survivors to fall back on, it comes as no surprise that workplace sexual harassment in India is grossly under-reported with 70% victims not reporting the crime.

Sexual harassment by men in positions of power has been prevalent across the board. It's only when the system starts to support the survivor instead of shaming them, and stops empowering the perpetrator can we hope to see a change. 

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