Sexual harassment is a far greater issue at work than we are aware of, says a specialist.
From Weinstein to Westminster, sexual harassment in the workplace is continually discussed, but Julie Johns, Managing Director at Bournemouth’s Safe Space Consultancy, believes “it’s endemic”.
She said: “It’s a far greater issue than we are aware of because of the lack of reporting.”
Almost two in three young women have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
What is sexual harassment at work?
Johns explains it is: “Any behaviour of a sexual nature that is unwanted and unacceptable, i.e. verbal, written, images, physical contact, touching and/or assault.
“It’s not necessarily from an employee, but anybody someone comes in to contact with during their work, such as a client or contractor.”
Earlier this year, gender equality charity, The Fawcett Society, recommended that the Government reintroduce Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 after it was repealed in 2013 – this refers to employers having a duty to act on sexual harassment cases in the workplace where the perpetrator is a third party, such as a client or customer.
The TUC survey asked women aged 18 – 24 years old what forms of sexual harassment they experienced at work, below are their findings.
88% of sexual harassment cases in TUC’s survey showed the harasser was male.
But, Johns emphasises: “Even though this is a greater problem from male perpetrators towards females, it can happen from female to male and towards the same sex as well.”
What should employers do?
Looking at the recent cases in the media, Johns said: “it really is asking for employers to look at the working environment which has been accepted and normalised for so long.
“What I would like to see is preventative measures put in place. This training has to be in the workplace from the beginning so people know what is acceptable and what isn’t.”
“I absolutely think perpetrators know what they are doing”
As a result of the allegations of sexual harassment at Westminster, a cross-party committee proposed training for MPs in appropriate behaviour in the workplace.
But shouldn’t people, and MPs in particular, know what is and isn’t acceptable to do?
Johns says: “I’ve been working in the field for 17 years now and I absolutely think perpetrators know what they are doing, and if they say they didn’t then they’re making excuses for their behaviour.
“We all know how to behave, we know not to put someone in a position where they feel uncomfortable, and to not use power to control another person.
“It’s about respecting another person’s rights.”
Why is sexual harassment at work not reported?
Almost 4/5 women (79%) who said they experienced sexual harassment at work didn’t tell an employer, according to TUC’s survey.
Johns explains that usually the perpetrator has a sense of entitlement, and uses their position of power to control someone else.
As a result, she says, many feel like they can’t speak up about it:
“Firstly, because they might not be believed, and secondly, because of the fear of threats or fear of losing their job.”
“[U]nfortunately, I know that judges can commit rape and can coerce sexual activity because of their positions of power. Many, like me, will stay silent because they fear the professional repercussions that would come with speaking out.” https://t.co/9JRGcNCLut #metoo pic.twitter.com/GLr8QEJCI6
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) February 13, 2018
Will something positive come out of the media’s coverage?
The widespread #metoo movement which started last year has helped to break the taboo around sexual assault and harassment at work.
It has seen many high profile names share their experiences online, inspiring others to do the same.
Johns adds: “the courage of those that are speaking out, will encourage others to report their experiences, but they can only do that if they feel their workplace will take their complaint seriously and that the workplace has appropriate training put in place.”
“I think we’ve still got a bit of a way to go [to prevent sexual harassment], but now we have started to speak up about it, we need to continue to do so.”