Prevention of and protection against sexual harassment, sexualized discrimination, violence, bullying and stalking
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Sexual harassment is defined by the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) as as a form of discrimination with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of the person concerned
It can take many forms such as:
- Sexist statements through words or gestures
- Unwanted bodily contact, for example, patting or stroking
- Personally offensive remarks, for example, regarding one’s appearance or private life
- Obscene jokes
- Displaying, sending, or leaving behind pornographic images
- Displaying or mailing pornographic internet sites
- Exhibitionist behavior
- Sexual coercion and physical threats (punishable offense § 177)
This definition is very clear, but in many cases, those affected often struggle to recognize sexual harassment in the moment it happens to them. This makes it difficult to react adequately, especially to seemingly harmless incidents that "probably weren't meant that way". Setting and respecting boundaries are key to an environment free of harassment. Important is that harassment of any kind is not defined by the perpetrator, but by the intended victim.
Sexism = sexual harassment?
No. Sexism is a broader term that also describes general beliefs and attitudes towards certain genders. Sexual harassment, on the other hand, always refers to concrete behaviour. Nevertheless both terms are intertwined.
Sexual harassment in the workplace
It's widely assumed that sexual harassment is rarely the expression of sexual desire. It is a form of power abuse in unequal relations that secures the position of those in a higher hierarchical position while keeping lower positioned people at bay. A nation wide survey conducted in 2004 showed a great power imbalance between perpetrators and victims.
Sexual harassment can be extremely stressful for those affected. Financial dependency can make it impossible to quickly escape the toxic environment. In fear of risking their career many people decide not to report the incident. Furthermore only few employees know about their protective rights guaranteed by the law and the organisation. But sexual harassment can have a negative impact on the whole team or department. In most cases the team spirit is disturbed and a decrease in collaboration, creativity and trust can usually be observed while at the same time sick leaves increase.
In case of harassment, the employer is obliged to help, i.e. to initiate appropriate measures (depending on the severity of the incident, warning, transfer, dismissal) to stop the harassment and prevent it in the future (AGG §12,13).
- Openly addressing sexual harassment and raising awareness by educating staff meetings
- Teaching employees about their rights and distribute information about legal protection
- Appoint an in-house point of contact
- Clear procedures on dealing with complaints
- Regular training on the topic for all employees
- General agreements on how to treat and form of harassment
- Widely available information of external help organisations
Preventing sexual harassment is the employer's duty
Employers are obliged to protect their employees from sexual harassment at the workplace - laid down by law in section 12 of the General Equal Treatment Act. Appropriate precautions must be taken, especially to prevent sexual harassment. The training of employees as integral part of the qualification process is seen as an important first step towards the effective prevention of discrimination.
Section 1 of the Constitution expresses the pilars of our society: "Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority. The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world."
From this it can be deduced that individual boundaries have to be respected to preserve the dignity of each and everyone.
Your rights if you are being harassed at work:
Right to complain
Prohibition of measures (§16 AGG)
Right to refuse performance (§14 AGG)
Claims for damages (§15 para. 1 AGG) and compensation (§15 para. 2)
Regulations and laws
- Constitution §1, Art. 1 und 2
- General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG)
- Criminal Code § 177 - Sexuelle Nötigung: Vergewaltigung, § 240 – Nötigung
- Criminal Code § 184i - Since 2017, the new law Governing Sexual Offences includes the guiding principle "No means no". In the case of sexual assaults, it no longer matters whether violence was threatened or used. The decisive factor is that the victim didn't want the sexual act.
Verhandlungen vor Gericht
In practice, the implementation of a law always depends on the assessment of the individual case. The following examples are documented cases of sexual harassment:
- Slap on the buttocks (BAG 9.6.11, 2 AZR 323/10, NZA 2011, 1342)
- Grasping the hips/grabbing the buttocks (ArbG Berlin 27.1.12, 28 BV 17992/11)
- Pressing the pelvis against the buttocks (LAG Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 14.8.12, 5 Sa 324/11)
- Touching the female breast and pubic area (VG Meiningen 8.12.11, 6 D 60012/11 ME)
- Secretly photographing the buttocks (LAG Rheinland-Pfalz 3.11.09, 3 Sa 357/09)
- Touching the back, shoulder, thighs (LAG Rheinland-Pfalz 24.10.07, 8 Sa 125/07).
The experience of being sexually harassed can leave victims traumatized. The assault or violation of a person's psychological and/or physical integrity can place a heavy psychological burden on the person and result in far-reaching health problems.
Immediate feelings after sexual harassment are often speechlessness and shock together with anger, horror and rage. Victims often feel humiliated and ashamed, tend not to talk to anyone about the incident and are left alone powerless. Aditionally theres often a feeling of guilt and self-doubt steming from the idea of not reacting appropriate during the incident.
Furthermore victims often feel increased difficulties in social interaction and find it harder than usual to engage in carefree social interaction.Regarding health issues, people often complain about lack of concentration, sleeping disorders, headaches and stomach aches as well exhaustion, general sadness, sometimes panic attacks and even depression.