Public Defender Identifies Sexual Harassment
On 1 November 2018, the Public Defender of Georgia completed examination of applications against Z.D., which concerned alleged sexual harassment. The Public Defender found sexual harassment in 3 out of 5 applications and made a relevant recommendation. Case proceedings were terminated in 2 cases due to insufficient evidence.
In April and May 2018, five women addressed the Public Defender with allegations of sexual harassment independently from each other. For the purpose of obtaining complete information, representatives of the Public Defender personally met with the parties, conducted correspondence, interviewed and requested written information from the third parties. The exchange of communication submitted by the parties ended on October 10, 2018.
As a result of thorough examination of applications, sexual harassment was found in relation to three applicants. There was a lack of evidence in the cases, however, the positions submitted and the copies of written communication in some cases confirmed relationship between the parties. Furthermore, based on the explanations and written communication of the third parties, it was found that the applicants cut off contact with Z.D. after his undesirable behavior.
Common characteristics of circumstances and Z.D.’s behaviour in relation to all the three applicants led to a suspicion of sexual harassment, while the respondent’s arguments and evidence did not turn out to be sufficient to disprove the allegations.
According to the Public Defender, the Public Defender’s Office received applications against Z.D. after she submitted Z.D.’s candidacy for membership of the Public Broadcaster’s Board of Trustees. However, even if the processes against Z.D. were part of a campaign, the above does not rule out the alleged acts of sexual harassment and therefore, the respondent’s efforts to focus on the above cannot cast doubt on the applicants' truth.
In addition, the Public Defender had no reason to suppose that the applicants had deliberately misinterpreted Z.D.'s specific phrases and verbal expression of sexual behaviour, since they are not related to each other and are of various personal and professional profiles. All three of them had objective expectations that they would establish business relations with Z.D. All three of them told their friends about unwanted sexual activity and had no had contact with Z.D. after their first meeting.
As for the other two applicants, no sexual harassment could be identified due to the lack of sufficient evidence. Specifically, it was not clear when exactly they cut off contact with Z.D. or when they expressed that the respondent’s behaviour was undesirable.
When examining the applications, the Public Defender was guided by a standard established by international human rights law, according to which, the offender ought to have known that a particular type of sexual behavior would be unwelcomed by the victim. This approach establishes a subjective and objective test for sexual harassment. The subjective part is the harasser’s own knowledge of how his or her behaviour is being received. The objective component considers, from the point of view of a “reasonable” third party, how such behaviour would generally be received.
The Public Defender also relied on the Reasonable Woman Standard, which takes into account the men and women’s different perceptions of sexual harassment. This standard assesses sexual harassment from the woman's viewpoint and represents a gender-sensitive approach.