In recent months, the debate surrounding what constitutes sexual harassment has received much media attention in the UK due to the emergence and rapid growth of The Everyday Sexism Project. The Project allows individuals from all over the world to share their stories regarding the kind of sexism that occurs unnoticed in our daily lives, in order to raise awareness of a serious yet often ignored problem. According to the project’s founder Lauren Bates, there have been over 10,000 entries on harassment in the workplace, which shows the staggering number of those which have suffered such abuse. Other recent studies have shown, however, that the majority of sexual harassment cases in the workplace go unreported.
A US poll completed by The Huffington Post and YouGov, which surveyed 1000 people, uncovered this worrying piece of information. According to the data received, 13% of the participants had been sexually harassed by a boss or superior, 19% by a co-work and 21% had witnessed sexual harassment being committed to somebody else in the workplace. Despite this, approximately 70% of these cases went unreported. It’s also important that we mustn’t be prejudiced in assessing this data too. Although the majority of incidents of workplace sexual harassment occur against women and by the opposite sex, a 2008 survey from AWARE showed that 21% of reported cases were against men, as well as their being some incidences of harassment from the same sex. It’s clear therefore that sexual harassment in the workplace could happen to just about anyone, and so nobody should feel that they have to keep quiet about it.
But why is hardly anybody speaking out about their experience of sexual harassment? Lauren Bates believes that we live in ‘a culture of acceptance’, in which cases of sexual harassment are simply ‘brushed under the carpet’. This is certainly true of society at large. But a major reason why people keep stum as regards to harassment in the workplace more specifically, is the ‘fear of not being taken seriously, or of losing their jobs,’ according to Bates. This could be the case, since data from the AWARE survey also showed that 12% of those who had been subjected to sexual harassment at work had received threats of termination if they didn’t comply with the harasser.
This is obviously a very difficult issue which many people have faced throughout their professional lives. As far as I’m concerned, if a colleague finds your behaviour offensive for any reason it is most probably inappropriate, even if you think you’re just having a bit of banter. Some may even be subjected to worse treatment because of the way in which society thinks that this idea of ‘banter’ is ok. If you think you may have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace then you can find an extensive and realistic guide as to what to do next at workharassment.net.