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#MeToo And The Tedious Legal Battle To Prove Harassment

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“Behaviour characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation”. As easy as the above dictionary meaning of sexual harassment seems, it has equally difficult implications socially, legally and morally. This case is made further difficult keeping in view the different societies and how differently they perceive some harassments as sexual or otherwise. Even more, the differences within the society and the subjectivity attached in matters like these, varies from person to person.

When it comes to sexual harassment, the legal battle to prove that the harassment actually took place is rather tiring. It may be easy to prove to a court that Mr. X killed Mr. Y. But it would be relatively far more difficult to prove that X sexually harassed Y. Inherently, all crimes require two essential elements to constitute a crime in the first place: mental element and the physical element. Therefore, the one who is accusing the other of sexual harassment will have to prove to the court that one was physically touched inappropriately and also that the culprit deliberately, with full conviction and intention, carried out the physical advances. This write-up does not intend to focus on the law as such, but rather aims to focus on the ramifications of the journey one ventures into, once the unfortunate experience is revitalised.

When a sexual harassment allegation is made, does it do any good to the victim? All it does is create some trouble for the accused, for some time. But given the state of affairs and our culture of victim-blaming, the perpetrators are hardly ever held accountable in true sense of the word. Is it not a vicious cycle? The #MeToo movement-victim discloses that she too was sexually harassed during her career. Her disclosure travels all around social media, mass media and talk shows. In the next phase, the victim discloses the name of the perpetrator. This time it runs through all the mediums fumingly. Then come the endorsements and some rebuttals from people associated with the victim as well as the alleged perpetrator; both claiming their side’s story to be true.

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Things get more complicated when both the alleged perpetrator and victim have spent a considerable time together and have known each other quite well-for instance, the case of Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi. A brief timeline would reveal that Meesha Shafi broke the silence on 19th of April, 2018 last year via a statement released on Twitter alleging that Ali Zafar sexually harassed her on so and so occasions. A few hours later Ali Zafar responds with a counter statement categorically denying all the allegations levelled against him by Meesha Shafi. Then, as alluded to above, came the endorsements; Osman Khalid Butt and Urwa Hussain endorsed Shafi whereas Maya Ali inscribed her support to Ali Zafar.

Shafi’s revelation came to be seen as a major milestone in Pakistan’s own #MeToo movement.

This is where the law becomes an intensely complex subject when getting to the bottom of the matter becomes inexplicable. This incontrovertible fact can be seen in the shuttlecock legal battle ensuing between the two celebrities, the first of its kind in Pakistan. There are two aspects to this legal war, one party accuses the other of sexual harassment while the other in return sues the former for defamation and denies all the charges.

In order to win, the victim will have to prove that he/she was subjected to sexual harassment. On the contrary, for the perpetrator to win legally, all he has to make sure is that nothing gets proven against him.

Is proving sexual harassment especially if it happened in a distant past not an uphill task for the victim? What apparently seems as a salvation exercise is, in fact, analogous to fanning the fumes. The fumes which not only take the victim and perpetrator in its grip but also their families, friends and loved ones. It is this complexity due to which in developed countries a settlement is reached between the parties to prevent the legal depression.

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So is the author suggesting that one should keep silent on the adversities one comes across in the form of sexual harassment? Not at all, on the contrary, the author opines keeping in view the law and other sociological factors narrated above that one should report the incident right there and then. That is the only time when a complaint could be effective as the perpetrator is most likely to have done such illegal and immoral actions towards other people who are most likely to raise their voice too contemporarily.

If one has chosen to compromise due to whatever compulsion one was under at the time of the incident whether it happened once or a number of times and later on the melancholy takes one over, it is better to let it be, because the justice system of the country and society is never on the victim’s side. It is rather better to seek help from medical professionals, family and friends. If the story is made public at a later point, the victim has to relive the trauma they may have gone through, and it helps no one.  

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