If you’ve been sexually harassed at work you’re not alone. Find out what constitutes sexual harassment, why people don’t speak up, and what to do about it.
Rose McGowan, Mira Sorvino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, Romola Garai, Heather Graham, Cara Delevingne, Léa Seydoux, Lupita Nyong’o, and on, and on… As the list of names making allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein grew the #MeToo trend gained momentum.
The hashtag caught on when actress Alyssa Milano – who starred in Charmed with Rose McGowan – tweeted a call-out to victims everywhere: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Just how big is this problem?
While some have voiced surprise at the numbers of women coming forward just last year the TUC published what they called “… the biggest study of its kind for a generation”: Still Just a Bit of Banter?.
- 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work – including: groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes
- 63% of women and girls aged 16-24 had experienced unwanted behaviour at work
- 1 in 5 of those said they had been harassed by their boss – or someone else in authority
Why are we not hearing more about it then?
- 4 in 5 of the women who had experienced unwanted behaviour at work did not report the incidents to their employers
This was backed up by a YouGov survey carried out on behalf of the Young Women’s Trust, which found that:
- 12% of HR decision-makers, for large employers, knew sexual harassment went unreported
So why aren’t women reporting it?
Shockingly women in the TUC study said they feared reporting sexual harassment would:
- Harm their workplace relationships
- Or, that they would not be taken seriously
Indeed many of the women involved in the Weinstein scandal were afraid for the future of their careers. While director Quentin Tarantino said when his then girlfriend, Mira Sorvino, told him about the harassment she’d suffered he thought this:
“I chalked it up to a 50s-60s era image of a boss chasing a secretary around the desk. … As if that’s OK. That’s the egg on my face right now.”
Add to that Donald Trump’s harassment-boasting tapes dismissed as ‘locker room talk’ and the fear of not being taken seriously is not unfounded.
This is not OK…
“If you’re treated badly or less favourably because of your reaction to sexual harassment, you may have a claim under the Equality Act.
The Act says this is also harassment. You’re protected if you reject or submit to the harassment. The person who treats you less favourably can be the person who actually harassed you, but it can also be someone else.”
So, what is sexual harassment, exactly?
The Citizens Advice Bureau explains sexual harassment at work like this: “Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
- violates your dignity
- makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
- creates a hostile or offensive environment
You don’t need to have previously objected to someone’s behaviour for it to be considered unwanted. Sexual harassment can include:
- sexual comments or jokes
- physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching and various forms of sexual assault
- displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
- sending emails with a sexual content”.
And, what should you do about it?
Again according to the CAB: “If you’re being sexually harassed by someone you work with, you should:
- Tell your manager – put it in writing and keep a copy of the letter or email
- Talk to your HR team or trade union – they’ll be able to give you advice
- Collect evidence – keep a diary recording all of the times you’ve been harassed
If your colleague doesn’t stop harassing you, you could raise a formal grievance (complaint). All employers must have a grievance process – ask your manager or HR team. You could make a claim at an employment tribunal if you can’t solve your problem using the grievance procedure.”
Your workplace will have sexual harassment protocols in place, and it’s important to follow them if you have a grievance – your HR department can advise you on this.
But you can also find useful and impartial advice from official bodies like ACAS. The ACAS website has a useful bullying and harassment guide here. Or the CAB, mentioned above, has information on harassment here.
Remember, you don’t have to suffer in silence.