29/11/2016 4:30 PM IST | Updated 29/11/2016 4:36 PM IST

The Silent Suffering Of Men Facing Sexual Harassment

"Sexual harassment"—the term by default has always been associated with women, and men who undergo similar ordeals remain invisible. Men feel hesitant to come forward to talk about it, fearing the stigma associated with masculine vulnerability or "weakness." Yet, the problem exists. For example, a survey conducted across Indian cities in 2010 showed that 19% of the men from a sample of 527 said they faced some form of sexual harassment at the workplace.

I never discussed it with anyone as no one would believe that a woman was harassing me.

Our male-dominated society refuses to acknowledge the sexual harassment of men, and this ignorance—born of gender bias—perpetuates the secrecy and the problem. The issue is neglected to such an extent that even the Indian legal system does not recognize men as possible victims of sexual harassment. We have the Protection of Women against Sexual harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, but there is no law for men to resort to should they face sexual harassment at work. Sections 376, 354, 509 of the IPC deal with sexual assault, outraging of modesty, eve teasing and rape—again, it is presumed that only a woman can be the victim of such crimes.

The fact is men too can fall victim to sexual crimes. Below is an account by a 22-year-old man (he wishes to remain anonymous) who told us of how he suffered sexual harassment at the hands of a woman colleague.

I started working as a trainee manager in one of the top MNCs in Gurugram in 2010, and soon earned the respect of my mentors and colleagues with my dedication towards work. Salin (name changed) joined my firm in 2011, and it was clear from the beginning that she enjoyed flirting. At first, I played along, thinking she was just having fun, but her attention soon started making me feel uncomfortable.

I felt as if I had become her target in office and it was very embarrassing. One day when I was sitting in the common area to make a call to my family, she sat beside me on the sofa and started coming very close to me. She was crossing her legs, leaning towards me and placing her hand on the nape of my neck. Her intentions were absolutely clear from her body language and when she was started playing with my hair, I felt awkward enough to disconnect the call. I wanted to slap her but obviously didn't do so because respecting women is one of my principles. My senior and two other colleagues also walked in and saw this play out and I was totally embarrassed. I was so shocked and stunned by her conduct that didn't know how to react. I never discussed it with anyone as no one would believe that a woman was harassing me. Going forward, I made sure that I kept a distance from her and didn't respond to any kind of flirting.

As a society, we think that only men can abuse their power and women can only be victims and not oppressors. What we need are gender-neutral rights and laws, rather than the gender-biased ones we follow.

Our society and law should widen the scope of our understanding of "gender equality." Laws to protect all people should be made. Woman can be in as powerful a position as men and one should respect that rather than treating them as oppressed, vulnerable or weak in general.

Our society and law should widen the scope of our understanding of "gender equality." Laws to protect ALL people should be made.

Here, I'd like to add that the law of perjury should also be strengthened so that a strict check can be put on women making false complaints against men (such as the much-publicised case of Jasleen Kaur who got a man arrested for harassment, and was later found to have fabricated the incident)—such cases harm not only men but also women with genuine complaints. Perjury under the IPC is dealt with under Sections 191 to 201 and can attract imprisonment upto seven years, but it is not being implemented rigorously. It's time for the judiciary to take such cases seriously so that people are deterred from making false accusations.