Sexual harassment is leaving victims feeling “ashamed and frightened” as new research shows that nearly two thirds of young women have experienced such unwanted attention at work.
From suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, or demands for sexual favours, sexual harassment in the workplace is still rife, a new study reveals.
This latest report, called ‘Still just a bit of banter?’ is the largest study of its kinds in a generation and comes from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project.
The study surveyed 1,533 people about workplace harassment.
A total of 52% of women and 63% of women aged 18 to 24 years old, said they have experienced sexual harassment at work.
The study was carried out by YouGov and is based on the opinion of women who are working or who have ever had a job, and were happy to be surveyed about this topic from an overall sample of British adults.
One case involves a woman called Amanda, whose surname has been kept anonymous.
Amanda works in the transport sector and said one night a drunk passenger grabbed her cheeks in order to give her a kiss.
Amanda screamed for the man to get off her. When he released her “he was smiling and leering... and he thought he was still being nice”, she said.
Amanda said that when the police were called they “didn’t take it seriously”.
The ordeal stayed with Amanda, who went home confused, shaken up and threatened. “When I got home I couldn’t sleep. It was a traumatic experience for me. I felt terrified,” she said.
Amanda later pursued the case through the police and the man was given an conditional caution for common assault.
The survey also finds that 79% of women who said they experienced sexual harassment at work did not tell their employer about what was happening.
In a blog published on the Huffington Post UK on Wednesday, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This isn’t about women being able to take a joke or not.
“Sexual harassment is undermining and humiliating and victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened.”
In 88% of cases the perpetrator of the sexual harassment was male, and 17% of women reported that it was their line manager, or someone with direct authority over them.
Shana, 36, is a university lecturer in North West England. When she was in her 20s she began a new job. Her older, male, married supervisor would talk to her breasts rather than her face, she said.
Shana’s lack of experience in the work place meant that, while she saw how inappropriate his behaviour was, the fact he found his conduct acceptable unnerved her and she questioned her judgement – and feared others would if she told them.
She began to find it hard to eat or sleep and when she knew she was due to have a meeting with him she would get very anxious.
As a result Shana avoided going to see her supervisor for support because she felt so nervous and threatened in his presence, so she ended up having to work harder than some of her peers to overcome problems herself.
He remained her supervisor for the next six years. This prolonged period of harassment affected Shana’s confidence and she describes feeling ‘worthless’ as a result.
The study the first to include the opinion of women who identify as black, minority and ethnic origin (BME) who say they have been harassed at work.
O’Grady said: “How many times do we still hear that sexual harassment in the workplace is just a bit of ‘banter’?
“Let’s be clear – sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health.
“Victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened. It has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society.
“Employers must be clear they have a zero tolerance attitude to sexual harassment and treat any complaint seriously. It’s a scandal that so few women feel their bosses are dealing with the issue properly.
“Anyone worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work.”
Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, said: “Many people would like to think that workplace sexual harassment is a thing of the past.
“In reality, it is alive and well, and having a huge impact on tens of thousands of women’s lives.
“These findings reveal the shameful extent of the problem and the reality of the touching, unwanted advances, and inappropriate comments women find themselves confronted with while simply trying to do their jobs.
“This is shameful behaviour that has no place in 2016 and employers need to take urgent action to tackle the problem.”