Woman groped by colleague ends up having to quit in fear
Despite witnesses, company lets man off with just a warning and allows him to intimidate her, she says
A woman was conversing with a colleague at a social gathering when a male colleague walked past and groped her buttocks. The incident left her shocked and confused.
"I remained where I was, utterly stunned, trying to process what had just happened," Maria (not her real name) told The New Paper in an e-mail interview last week.
Maria, who is in her 20s, later told some friends and family members about the incident and made a police report following their advice.
She also reported the colleague to her company's human resources department.
Maria said she had no direct working relationship with the man, but he had made uncomfortable comments in the past and also exhibited behaviour that made her and other female colleagues feel uncomfortable.
After an internal investigation, the company issued him with a warning, which surprised her because others had witnessed the incident.
Maria said the company told her it could not be sure that what the man did was considered molest, and it would take further action only if he was found guilty in court.
Mr Tan Hee Joek, a partner at law firm Tan See Swan & Co, told TNP that groping amounts to outrage of modesty, a serious offence that carries a jail term of up to two years, a fine and/or caning.
The former deputy public prosecutor added: "Legally, the evidence will depend on the accounts of the alleged victim and the witnesses. It will also help if there is other evidence like CCTV footage."
Maria, who declined to reveal her occupation, was bewildered and angry at the decision and felt the company had not taken the incident seriously.
She said the man also started coming to her work area more frequently and stared at her repeatedly.
When she told the HR department, it took insufficient actions to stop his intimidation.
So she quit her job as she no longer felt safe and respected after the company failed to adequately address her concerns about her safety.
"I felt deeply let down, patronised and gaslighted," she said.
Dr David Leong, managing director of human resource company PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said the company should have acted more decisively and given a sterner punishment to the offender, especially since there were witnesses.
"Waiting for the court's judgment before taking further action makes it seem as if the management is deferring responsibility and may give the appearance that it tolerates such behaviour," he said.
With more workplace sexual misconduct cases being reported, all organisations must have strict and transparent protocols in place to deal with such cases, Dr Leong added.
Recalling how the incident had traumatised her, Maria said: "Since then, I have experienced anxiety whenever a man comes uncomfortably close to me - strangers in particular.
"I have had recurrent nightmares regarding the incident to this day. This entire ordeal has been extremely draining mentally and emotionally."
A study published last month by market research company Ipsos and gender equality organisation Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) revealed that two in five workers in Singapore were victims of unwelcome sexual advances or remarks in the workplace in the past five years.
Ms Mamta Melwani, a senior executive at Aware's Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory, told TNP: "Maria's company failed to provide her with a safe work environment following the incident by allowing continued harassment and intimidation.
"They should have implemented stronger deterrent measures to ensure her well-being throughout the investigation."
Ms Mamta said several factors could make a survivor feel anxious after reporting an incident, including potential retaliation and the possibility of facing the perpetrator at work.
In Maria's case, she said, all parties should have been provided with a timeline and overview of the investigation process, and prompt and sensitive communication would have helped to ease her anxiety.