Sexual harassment often swept under the carpet, says women’s NGO


PETALING JAYA: The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) has expressed concern over the tendency of institutions to sweep sexual harassment under the carpet.

Speaking to FMT, WAO communications officer Tan Heang Lee said the tendency to keep mum was often either to protect the institution’s image or those in power.

“Sexual harassment is enabled by power imbalance. Perpetrators are often in positions of authority and abuse their power to harass and silence victims,” she said.

Tan Heang Lee.
Tan Heang Lee.

She was commenting on a report where a former employee of a well-known environmental NGO claimed the organisation covered up sexual harassment of a female junior personnel and swept complaints against the perpetrator under the rug.

Tan said when victims tried to speak up against sexual harassment, it was often the case that these whistleblowers were either silenced, sidelined or transferred to another department against their will.

“They may even be blamed for the harassment or seen as lying, exaggerating, or being too sensitive.”

She pointed out that under the Employment Act, those who failed to investigate complaints of sexual harassment were in fact breaking the law and could be fined up to RM10,000.

Tan also urged organisations to establish sexual harassment policies in order to clearly articulate which behaviours were acceptable and which weren’t.

“The policy should also lay out the investigation procedure as well as how victims would be protected and supported.

“It takes much courage to speak up against sexual harassment, especially against a superior. We must believe and support survivors, and ensure that they get the justice they deserve.”