Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome act of a sexual nature, using assault, criminal force, or words or actions, which causes annoyance or pain of mind to the person being harassed.Although to the recipient the act is unwelcome, humiliating, disgusting, revolting and repulsive, the perpetrator may view it as complimentary, harmless, funny, ‘normal’ and even flattering. It is nevertheless sexual harassment if the act is unwelcome. Sexual harassment can occur in private or public life, between family and friends or at the workplace, public places and transportation. Both men and women can be perpetrators.



What constitutes Sexual Harassment?

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and in Public Transportation can include:

  • Unwelcome physical contact and advances
  • Words or comments of a sexual nature that makes the person hearing it uncomfortable
  • Dirty jokes and obscene gestures
  • Showing pornographic material
  • Demanding or requesting sexual favours
  • Circulation of abusive personal and or obscene emails and visuals
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non – verbal conduct of sexual nature


Responsibilities of Employers and Institutions

Employers, responsible persons in authority and institutions are legally bound to prevent or deter acts of sexual harassment by:

  • Providing a safe working environment
  • Establishing a code of behaviour, and practices in the workplace
  • Taking immediate steps against sexual harassment
  • Treating complaints confidentially



Reporting Sexual Harassment
  • If sexual harassment takes place in public transportation, the incident can be reported to the Transport Commission Hotline 011-7 555 555; Police Hotline 119; Police Children and Women’s Bureau Hotline 011- 2 444 444.
  • If sexual harassment takes place at an educational institute, report it to the principal/dean/registrar or director for an inquiry and action. A university or institution may have a code on sexual harassment. Check whether such a code has been adopted, and if so follow the procedure given.
  • Similarly you may also report it to the police at the same time, if no action is taken by the education institute.
  • If sexual harassment takes place at workplace, report it to your superior or human resource manager or any other authority. If the company or institution has a sexual harassment policy follow the procedure laid out. You can also report it to the police at the same time.
  • In the event of physical violence, obtain a medical examination as soon as possible from an authorized medical officer. The medical officer has a duty to collect hair, body fluids, fibers and other evidence, if any. Medical officers have a duty to report any incident of serious physical injury to the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) and Police.
  • Make a complaint to the nearest police station.
  • Inquire whether the police station has a Women and Children’s Desk or ask for a woman police officer if you prefer speaking to a woman instead of a male constable. Make sure all details of the incident are covered. Service Providers.
  • Ensure that you read the statement before signing it.
  • In addition to taking a statement, police will collect physical evidence and take statements from witnesses if there are any.
  • The police interview may take as long as several hours, depending on the circumstances of your case. Some questions may be intrusive, and the officer may go over the details of the incident several times. The extensive questioning is often justified by the need to get every detail down precisely, to make the strongest possible case against the perpetrator.
  • It helps to write down every detail you can remember, as soon as possible, so you can communicate the details to the police.

Certain organizations provide support through the reporting process. They can clarify your doubts and questions.
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Reasons for Sexual Harassment to go Unreported
  • The criminal justice system and the law enforcement authorities do not encourage complaints
  • The fear of making matters worse
  • The fear of harm to one’s name and one’s reputation
  • Its acceptance as a common occurrence in the workplace, places of education or public transportation
  • Fear of being followed if sexual harassment takes place in public places and public transportation
  • Lack of awareness about legal relief
  • The absence of sexual harassment prevention policies in the workplace, places of education etc.
  • The common practice of blaming victim-survivors rather than the aggressor
  • Low self esteem
Law on Sexual Harassment
  • According to Article 12 (2) of the Constitution, discriminating against a person based on his or her sex is a violation of such person’s fundamental right to equality.
  • Sexual harassment is criminally punishable under Section 345 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 1995.
  • Sexual harassment constitutes “Harassment of a sexual nature using assault, criminal force, or words or actions which causes annoyance to the person being harassed.” This includes:
  • Unwelcome sexual advances by words or action used by a person in authority (eg. Police, armed service personnel, school officials, medical officials etc.).
  • Unwelcome sexual advances in the work place.
  • Sexual harassment in the Penal Code may cover misuse of internet and emails that are obscene or make allegations of a sexual nature in order to harass, intimidate or embarrass.
  • Encouraging or condoning sexual harassment is also a crime under the law.
  • Under the Prohibition of Ragging and other forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998, if a person causes sexual harassment while ragging any student or a member of the staff of an educational institution he or she will be given a minimum punishment of ten (10) years and may also be ordered to pay compensation of an amount determined by court.

Sexual Harassment at the Work Place
  • The employer has a duty to provide a safe working environment, to establish zero tolerance code of behaviour for sexual harassment, to put in place a procedure for resolution, settlement or prosecution, to take immediate steps against sexual harassment and to treat complaints confidentially.
  • Sexual gratification at work place is punishable under the Bribery Act of 1980. In Republic of Sri Lanka v. Abdul Rashak Kuthubdeen, the demand for sexual favours in consideration of job promotion was interpreted as a ‘bribe’.
  • The harasser can be the victim-survivor’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • Sexual harassment may take place without economic damage to or dismissal of the victim-survivor from employment.
  • The dispute resolution mechanism enshrined in the Collective Agreements, can be used in incidents involving sexual harassment. For instance, both Section 18 on Disciplinary Inquiries contained in the Staff Collective Agreement of 1997 (applicable to all clerical staff) and Section 18 on Disciplinary Action in the Labour Collective Agreement of 1998 (applicable to all estate workers), could be interpreted to provide space to address sexual harassment.


International Laws and Conventions Prohibiting Sexual Harassment including in the Workplace
  • The right to work with dignity is a fundamental human right (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23 (1)). Furthermore, the right to work with dignity entails the need for the worker to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as enshrined in Article 5. In this context any conduct of a sexual nature, that is deemed to be degrading, humiliating and unwelcome to the recipient, would be construed as sexual harassment.
  • The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Women’s Convention) prohibits discrimination in employment and also guarantees the right to protection of health and safety in working conditions.
  • In defining violence against women, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) explicitly includes “sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions or elsewhere.”
  • The International Labour Organization Conventions and recommendations of the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Resolutions (CEACR) have addressed sexual harassment primarily as a form of discrimination in the workplace. Sexually harassing conduct may also be deemed a violation of the right to safe and healthy working conditions guaranteed under ILO Conventions. For more information please visit the ILO website at
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