"Her brother-in-law tried several times to harass and abuse her. He used to go into her room and mess with her underwear. On one occasion, he entered the room against her will and tried to abuse her." This is the story of a Syrian woman who is living with her in laws while her husband is working in Lebanon.
The lady tried to seek advice from one of her acquaintances, who told her not to disclose anything about what happened and join her husband in Lebanon.
Sexual harassment is defined as an invasive sexual behavior that violates the privacy of the other party, causing him or her to feel offended or threatened. The harassment may be verbal or physical and can be perpetrated by a person of the same gender, as the act is not restricted to a sex per se.
The second episode of Taboo program, which was broadcasted on Rozana media platforms, discussed the topic of sexual harassment. The program’s production team managed to interview a number of victims, who agreed to talk about their
Sexual harassment includes all sexual acts that may offend someone’s dignity, violate his or her personal freedom, body and feelings, and make him or her feel as a sexually-consumable object. Rozana published a questionnaire, to which 165 men and women have responded. According to the poll, 65 percent of the respondents believed that sexual harassment may lead to rape, considering that taking advantage of the victim’s vulnerability is one motive for sexual harassment, while 67 percent believed that the absence of piety encourages some to commit this crime.
Human rights violations are known to increase during wars and conflicts, including cases of sexual harassment, especially when people take advantage of the absence of authority and law.
Social researcher Enas Helal referred to cases of girls who were subjected to sexual harassment and assault by soldiers of the Syrian army. These girls, who were besieged in some areas in Damascus, had been sexually harassed and even raped in some cases by the soldiers who were supposed to allow them to go out to bring food.
Helal said that parents should protect their children from such violations, adding that a healthy upbringing may have a significant role in preventing such accidents. Thus, it is necessary for mothers to break the emotional barriers with their children, and teach them how to discriminate between right and wrong contact.
60 percent of the respondents to the same questionnaire considered that the absence of law enforcement is one of the reasons for the spread of incidents of sexual harassment in Syria.
Regarding this point, lawyer Ahmad Sawan stated that: "the term ‘harassment’ was not mentioned in the Syrian penal code at all. Rather, it came in the General Penal Code within the provisions of crimes against honor, i.e. it was referred to by the phrase (act of indecency) or (verbal indecency) which is considered as a violation or misdemeanor, depending on the severity of the act.”
Sawan pointed out that in Article 505 of the General Penal Code, it is stated that whoever touches or caresses a male or female minor or a woman, who is more than 15 years old, without consent in an indecent manner shall be imprisoned for no more than one year and a half. On the other hand, anyone who pronounces indecent words shall be punished with discretionary imprisonment from one to 10 days and no more. Thus, whoever offers to have an indecent act with a minor, who is under 15 years old, or addresses him or her with indecent words, shall be punished with discretionary imprisonment for three days and a fine not exceeding 75 Syrian pounds.
He noted that deterrent regulations stipulated by the Syrian penal code in this regard are very weak. Thus, everybody knows that immunity from punishment prompts people to commit offences. Lawyer Sawan added that proving the occurrence of the harassment act requires specific conditions, in addition to the presence of witnesses.
Sawan added that since the Syrian laws are not sufficiently deterrent, we must look for other means of protection, including the education of future generations in a different way and raising the youngsters’ awareness that sexual harassment has serious psychological and physical complications, in addition to negative health effects.
Dr. Hala al-Ghawi, surgeon and co-founder of the Families for Freedom movement, said: “If we want to talk about the physical effects of sexual harassment (on the victim), we may refer to symptoms that we describe as psychosocial such as tachycardia, shortness of breath and digestive disorders.”
Al-Ghawi added that psychological disorders, which range from anxiety, depression and symptoms of stress, to Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are considered as the most dangerous, as they are considered long-term illnesses.
Al-Ghawi explained that PTSD syndrome, involving a group of highly harmful symptoms, appears after several years of the accident, and is often manifested by seeing nightmares, inclination to isolation, severe unjustified phobia of society, and it may lead to depression and attempting suicide.
Al-Ghawi stressed on the point of not trivializing the act, such as saying “he said a word” or “attempted harassment” and mitigating this behavior on the pretext that it did not reach rape. It is also necessary to know that the harassment act has levels, has a wide impact, and it varies according to the person and his age (a minor, a child, a woman, a boy, or even males). It is thus crucial to focus on the effect of the act on the case or the victim.
Al-Ghawi further stressed on the importance of understanding the change of a certain behavior of the case, especially if it is a child. The staff working in the field of support, psychological care and nursing should know the symptoms that the victim might go through, as most cases do not come to the specialists because of the act of harassment itself, but rather because they suffer from a physical or psychological impact and they do not reveal the crime.
Al-Ghawi also indicated that studies have showed that the shock may cause a genetic change that can be passed from parents to future generations. Sex and society:
Enas considered that despite being open to many things such as the Internet, tours and modern cars, and the changing of people's way of dressing, the society is still dealing with sexual problems in a conventional way, and is still using the "this is bad and hush" method.
She pointed out to the necessity of having sex education in school curricula in a well-studied manner by specialists, which will contribute to decrease sexual problems in our society.
Enas indicated that the sexual harasser is a victim because of the ways with which he was brought up in society.
Dr. Hala commented on the point that the harasser is a victim, saying that harassment is a crime in all circumstances, and the harasser starts from the principle of power and I do not mean by law only. The manager at work, the manager of a company, a school teacher or the manager of the orphanage, these are positions of power.
She added that not every harasser is sexually repressed because sex is available to many of them, yet they like the idea of forcing a person to engage in a specific practice.
Dr. Hala mentioned that ignorance, social rules, educational curricula and the family all have played a role in the spread of these phenomena.
Most local and overseas Syrian institutions lack behavioral codes, which every employee must know and adhere to.
Dr. Hala al-Ghawi said that there must be comprehensive, confidential and credible mechanisms that guarantee the complainant's protection and an effective and safe complaint mechanism that is backed by supportive bodies.
It is also necessary to have a moral charter in every organization in the internal system and a human resources administration to which the employee can resort in case of harassment.
Lawyer Ahmad Sawan commented on harassment in the work environment, saying that this is a global issue, and many institutions tried, twenty years ago, to develop codes of conduct, which have to be signed by everyone who will join the institution or start the job, and which impose penalization even on the manager if he commits an act of harassment, and this could lead to the closure of his company, factory or facility.
Sawan considered that this penalty is more severe than imprisonment. The International Labor Conference signed a new agreement two years ago against harassment in the world of work, recognizing that violence and harassment in the workplace constitute a violation of human rights and abuse that threatens equal opportunities.
Silence on sexual harassment further exacerbates the problem, and women's lack of awareness of their rights and powers makes them vulnerable to harassment, because society prohibited talking about these problems, so the victim fears the scandal if she decides to disclose the incident.
This is also because society holds the victim responsible for being subjected to harassment, such as blaming women of wearing indecent clothes, mixing with men, or seducing men and other accusations.