Blog Article | 15 September 2016

Half of women in the UK have been sexually harassed at work

Reported in The Guardian on 10/08/16.

It seems sexual harassment in the workplace is not yet a thing of the past – a new study from the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project found that more than half of women have been sexually harassed at work.

The study polled 1,553 women, 52% of whom said they had experienced unwanted behaviour at work. This included groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes.

The results among younger women were even higher. 63% of those aged 18-24 reported unwanted behaviour while at work.

Almost a fifth of those polled reported that they had experienced harassment from their boss or someone else in an authoritative position over them.

Another woman told the researchers: “The most senior person in the organisation made a series of ‘jokes’ … about how I might want to give my boss a ‘rub down’ or a ‘massage’. Another director gestured to grab my breasts at a social gathering.”

Half of women in UK sexually harassed at work

Reporting harassment in the workplace

We were saddened to learn that 4 in 5 women said that they did not report the incidents to their employers, with the fears being that they would not be taken seriously or that reporting the harassment would harm their workplace relationships.

Of those who did report the incidents, the majority said there was no change in how they were treated, with 16% saying they felt they were treated worse as a result.

One woman described how a colleague said on her last day “his biggest regret was that he didn’t get the chance to rape me in the store room before I left”. She had been afraid to go in there for months because of the man’s previous comments, she said.

Half of women in the UK have been sexually harassed at work

Still just a bit of banter?

The report is entitled ‘Still Just A Bit of Banter?’ and is available to read in full on the TUC website.

The title brings attention to the fact that for many, sexual harassment in the workplace, and outside of work, is considered “a bit of a laugh” and “just a bit of banter”. Some women who experience harassment or verbal abuse are made to feel that they are “unable to take a joke” or are humourless.

But, as those who responded to a TUC online survey attested, it really isn’t “just a joke”. In fact, sexual harassment often has the effect of making the recipient feel ashamed, humiliated, undermined and frightened and can have a lasting impact on mental health. – Scarlet Harris, TUC’s Women’s Equality Officer, Sexual Harassment Is No Laughing Matter.

What is sexual harassment and assault?

Highlighted in the report is the fact that harassment and assault experienced by women in the workplace can come in many forms including verbal and physical, including but not limited to:

  • Unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature
  • Comments of a sexual nature about a colleague’s appearance
  • Requests or demands for sexual favours
  • Displays of pornographic materials in the workplace
  • Intimidation or humiliation
  • Unwanted touching
  • Attempts to be kissed
  • Serious sexual assault or rape

Find out more about sexual violence, consent and the law.

NO MORE “It was just a joke”

Sexual harassment in any form is not “just a bit of banter” and should never be minimised as simply banter or “just a bit of a joke”. If somebody is offended, violated or upset by a remark, suggestion, or physical move made by another person, their reaction and feelings are the ones which we must acknowledge.

When we witness or overhear such derogatory marks being made, we have a choice to intervene and make it clear we don’t agree with what is being said. We can begin to make a positive change by letting those around us know that harassment is not “just a bit of banter”, and that it can have a severely negative impact upon the person experiencing it. You can read the report in is entirety here.

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