Rima Amin - Founder @OfficeCute
A New York Supreme Court judge has ruled against singer Kesha Serbert’s plea for an injunction allowing her to work outside record label Kemosabe following allegations it’s owner Dr Luke sexually abused her from when she was 18.
Sony Music who own Kemosabe argued against Kesha saying that they had already invested $60m in her career. The judge said the ruling made on Friday was “commercially reasonable”.
Given the sensitivity of the claims and that the artist says she no longer feels safe it, Sony should have let the contract go.
Since the ruling #sonysupportsrape has started trending on Twitter. There’s also a terrible catch 22 in those calling to boycott Sony to support Kesha, yet buy her music.
Though Kesha will not have to work with Dr Luke directly, she feels working for the label he owns, will inherently limit her career progression.
The precedent set by this case, whether the allegations prove true or not, is one that further silences women from speaking out about sexual harassment in the workplace and one that says “if Kesha can’t free herself, what chance do the rest of us have?”
60% of women have had a male colleague behave inappropriately towards them and 1 in 8 have leave their jobs.
There are a series existing of paradigms on verbal, non-verbal and/or physical sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Horizontal (Lateral)
The horizontal power dynamic also means that colleagues at the same level can be perpetrators. Fear of being perceived as jeopardizing your colleagues progression to favour your own leaves women unable to report.
Power dynamic may also determine when women reports. Women are likely to be harassed in the beginning of the career but may wait until they have the confidence or credibility to speak out. It can prolong the harassment she faces. This is particularly the case when the “lower ranks” of teams are not taken seriously .
The Law Feels Out of Reach
Each country holds varying levels of legislation to protect people from sexual harassment. Everyone is the UK is legally protected against sexual harassment, so why does it still happen? Offensive behaviours can often be subtle and by people who do not fit the “monster in the alley” stereotype that dominates perceptions of what a sexual predator looks like.
It is also difficult to prove. And filing a law suit seems overwhelming especially if there are costs. We may understand it and the mental pressure that comes from harassment can drain people of energy. Kesha’s case is an example of where even if you can get a case to court, it may not always be able to protect you.
Dismissive Narratives and the Blame Game
There is always the fear that you won’t be believed. Telling someone is scary and nothing is more confusing than when you finally find someone to confide in, they suggest that perhaps you misunderstood and that this person was simply being nice. Other dismissive narratives include “it’s just banter” or “part of our office culture”.
Women have also said they've not been taken seriously when reporting to HR:
"I have taken my case to HR but they simply ignore me due to the sensitivity this case could bring to the press." -Everyday Sexism
"Went to HR about sexist and flirty CEO. Told to put up with it as I’m ‘young and pretty and they’re men, what do you expect?’" -Everyday Sexism
“HR manager told me on our first day “If you are going to report sexual harassment, first think about what you were wearing that day." -Everyday Sexism
Woman may begin to absorb these behaviours in hope that they will go away or she will get used to it. It accumulates. And repeated behaviors can escalate. Leering may turn into deliberately brushing past someone and so on. When women are made to feel guilty for not speaking out on early incidents making it harder for them to speak out later on.
“It’s only me. And I can handle it.”
Through emotional manipulation or intimidation, those facing repeated sexual harassment are made to feel like they are the only ones. It’s a way of preventing women from reporting incidents making women believe that it will not happen to anyone else.
“I thought he could be my mentor”
When someone more senior initially starts displaying attention, women may feel like the person wants to help them, offer guidance or even mentor them. It may feel like someone has seen potential in their capabilities. It’s exciting! The fall hits hard. The realisation that the person’s intentions are not to guide you, but to use you for sexual gratification can be the most crushing feeling to a woman’s self worth and career aspirations.
Not all industries have direct recourse - many professions do not have a HR department. The industries that are dominated by the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” game risk being blacklisted and branded a troublemaker for speaking out.
Industries which involve being a public figure adds the further fear of press and speculation.
No industry is free from sexual harassment and each faces different challenges. It’s important to know them and tailor best practice.
There’s a battle that plays out when a women challenges the actions of a man who’s harassed her. It’s the battle of “which is worse: the behaviours or a man losing his career?” The latter seems to steal focus. The case of Ched Evans, a footballer convicted of raping a young woman in April 2012 is an example. Following his conviction, supporters started tweeting “justice4ched” and began attacking the victim.
The potential impact on a man’s career may make women feel guilty or scared for raising the issue. The truth is, it’s not a confrontational battle. The damage that may be caused to a perpetrators career is subsequent of the harassment they impose and is not the fault of the victim.
There are many intersections of people affected by sexual harassment such as the LGBT and Black community. Sexual harassment affects men in the workplace too. These all hold unique challenges which need to be dealt with.
The faint silver lining with the Kesha case
Public reaction shows that despite the ruling, people believe that contractual violation is not greater than human violation. Several petitions have been set up and signed by thousand in support of Kesha. She has also been backed by other artists including Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Demi Levato.
The Kesha case has potential to set a dangerous precedent and is why we need to make a concerted effort to show that sexual harassment is not tolerated within the workplace by supporting women through practice, policies, procedures, guidance and reinforcing it through organizational culture.
Sexual harassment is not part and parcel of being a woman. It can exist in any organisation in any industry and is damaging to a woman’s
self being and ability to progress.
Many women are forced to terminate their roles when they shouldn’t have to. Each of us hold rights and should be able to exercise them in whichever way works for them. For Kesha, that should have been to be free from working with Kemosabe.
Still Kesha is not defeated – her lastest tweet includes a picture reading “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear”