Woman lawyer charges senior advocate of making advances

Written by Press Trust of India | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 19 2013, 05:08am hrs
A week after two interns levelled allegations of sexual harassment against a recently retired Supreme Court judge, another woman lawyer has come with a charge against an unnamed senior advocate of making advances which were "in the nature of an obsessive romantic and sexual interest".

The lawyer, who has ceased to assist the senior advocate, today wrote about her experience on website 'Legally India' which had brought into public domain the allegations of the two interns that they faced sexual harassment by the judge.

The woman also said she does not want that what she is writing should become a legal complaint as she has no intention of pursuing it.

She said, "In some ways, these kind of advances are harder to voice an objection to without sounding delusional, and even harder to convince people to take seriously as I discovered when I spoke to some friends. While most readily saw it as a form of sexual interest that is clearly inappropriate, fewer saw it as harassment, and fewer still as discrimination."

"After all, he didn't demand sexual favours, nor did the interaction affect my work. He wasn't being sexist in the sense of thinking, I was only good for one thing I still did and was given great work. He didn't exhibit a problem with successful female professionals. To many people, he seemed a reasonable, equality-minded sort of person with a bit of a crush," she said.

The female lawyer said the behaviour of her senior misses the scope of the term "hostile work environment" which certainly goes beyond hostility as only being assaulted, fired, denied a promotion or a pay cut.

Further she said it misses the fact that sexual harassment embodies fundamental gender stereotypes and that the hierarchy restrains people from challenging them.

"It misses how humiliating it is, to be singled out for unwanted attention, and to feel powerless. The impact it can have on one's self esteem and career choices. How victims are perceived and valued in workplaces by employers, and differently so by peers, the kind of gossip and stereotyping it gives rise to which affects not just victims but all women, how they choose to deal with it and what strategies they use to make the best of a situation, and how they feel about those strategies," she wrote.

She added that it took her a while to be able to talk about her experience and to express the conviction that she felt violated because she did not think that she fit the idea of someone who is "victimised or vulnerable".

"Of course I am intellectually aware of the arguments against this stereotype and readily apply them to other people and empathise with them, but to apply it to yourself is harder.

"I didn't want to see myself as a victim, I told myself it was not as bad as it could have been and there are others who have it worse, and I was also a little crippled by shame and fear of not speaking out, and of the potential consequences of doing so," she said.

"I don't want this to become a legal complaint, and I have no intention of pursuing this. It's just that I did not have the courage to rock the boat earlier, but someone else has done it now and I felt the least I could do was add to her and so many others' efforts," she said.

"I wanted to write some of these things at different times since it happened, and always shied away. I was far less confident about my place in the legal profession, and was told it would be impossible to prove, that no one would want to take a chance on hiring me, that I would forever be known for this instead of for my work.

"This may still be true but I care a little less, have a little more faith, and so when Legally India asked me to write about it at a time when people are receptive to listening and doing something about these issues, I decided to do it," she wrote.

She said she had once assisted a very senior lawyer whose advances towards her continued for quite some time after her assistance ceased.

"The advances were not physical; it was more in the nature of an obsessive romantic and sexual interest, starting with inappropriately timed phone calls to flowers, dinner invitations, and then sexually explicit email forwards and SMS jokes to more explicit expressions.

"This wasn't courtship, it was pursuit by a man old enough to be my father, who knew perfectly well how difficult it would be for me to reject him," the website quoted her as writing.