THE BLOG

'Just a Bit of Banter?'

10/08/2016 08:24 | Updated 10 August 2016
Ben Birchall/PA Archive

Those of us who hoped that sexual harassment at work was a thing of the past - something that our mums worried about in the 70s and 80s - will be concerned by a new TUC study published today.

It reveals that more than half (52%) of all women and nearly two-thirds (63%) of women aged 18-24 years old have been sexually harassed at work.

Our report, published with the Everyday Sexism Project, is one of the most extensive pieces of research on the issue in Europe. And for the first time in the UK, the study includes a large enough sample to be representative of experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic women - and rates of sexual harassment of BAME women were similarly high, with more than half (52%) being sexually harassed at work.

We found that nearly one in three women have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature and that more than one in four women have been on the receiving end of comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes at work.

And physical harassment and even assault is horrifyingly common. Nearly a quarter of women have been touched when they didn't want to be (such as a hand on the knee or lower back) and 12% of women experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them - while simply doing their jobs.

Worryingly few women who are sexually harassed at work take action. Four out of five (79%) women did not tell their boss - concerned it would impact on their relationships at work (28%) or on their career prospects (15%), while others were too embarrassed (20%) or felt they would not be believed (24%).

Time and time again we hear that sexual harassment is just a bit of banter. But the women who shared their stories with us show that that's just not true.

Leah was just 19 when she was harassed: "On a night out, I was stood in a crowd of male colleagues who were considerably older than me when one of them leaned through the circle and touched my boob while the rest laughed. Not one of them said anything or even seemed to think it was wrong."

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.

So how do we tackle this once and for all? First, employers need to protect their staff from sexual harassment. They must have sufficient training and robust policies in place to protect their workforce.

Second: the government needs to send a clear message that sexual harassment must stop. Ministers must cut tribunal fees and must make employers legally responsible for protecting their staff from harassment by customers and clients, as well as colleagues.

And finally: every woman worker should join a union. Union workplaces are safer workplaces. You can find out which union is the right one for you at tuc.org.uk/join-union

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