Sexual harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment is any kind of unwelcome, non-consentual sexual behaviour that's offensive, humiliating, or intimidating to someone, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.
There are many sensitive topics when it comes to sex, but this is one that remains a taboo in many areas of life, including the workplace.
When people think of sexual harassment, they think of a male harassing a female. While this is still the most common scenario, males also go through similar incidents of females harassing them.
Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in spheres such as the workplace or in a learning environment.
What kind of behaviour is considered sexual harassment?
There are many situations when someone could be a victim of sexual harassment. Some of them are discussing one's sex life in front of an employee, excess compliments of an employee's appearance, making sexual jokes, or asking an employee about their sex life, to mention a few.
Other behaviours that could be considered as sexual harassment are:
- Circulating nude photos or photos of women in bikinis or shirtless men in the workspace
- Sending sexually suggestive text messages or emails
- Leaving unwanted gifts of a sexual or romantic nature
- Spreading sexual rumors about an employee
- Repeated hugs or any unwanted form of touching (such as a hand on an employee's back).
Differences between sexual assault, abuse and harassment
Sexual harassment is a broad term, consisting of many types of unwanted verbal and physical sexual attention. Sexual assault refers to intentional physical contact of a sexual nature, such as kissing, touching, groping, or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator, without the consent of the victim. An assault is a more forward act, more easily incriminated. Harassment, although generally illegal, can sometimes be more discreet and, therefore, often not as easy to acknowledge or accuse.
Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity, among others.
Moreover, predatory behaviour means any conduct evidencing egregious, habitual, or continuing attempt to misuse power, authority, position, or situation to abuse or exploit others, as well as deliberate attempts to entrap or entice church workers to commit Sexual Misconduct.
Harassment is a category that is much broader than sexual abuse or sexual assault. Harassment does not have to be exclusively sexual in nature, but can also include offensive comments about a person's sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
How do you know if someone is sexually harassing you?
According to numbers from the Spanish Government Delegation Against Gender Violence, 47.4% of women victims of sexual harassment at work point to their superiors.*
Other studies showed that young women (16 to 24 years old) have experienced non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime at a higher rate (11.0%) than women aged 25 and over (6.0%).*
As we can see, this is a frequent situation that mainly affects women.
If you are uncertain, listen to the alarm bells and red flags; let your natural discomfort be an initial guide. Feeling unsafe in the workspace, due to an environment of a sexual nature, is a strong indicator that you are a victim. Any inappropriate behaviour that you perceive should set the alarm.
If you feel you cannot make it stop, or if you get any inappropriate reaction to any attempt to make it stop, bring this to a superior´s attention. There are centres especially for this, that help women who go through these experiences if you need them. Talking about it to people close to you is also helpful, firstly to express it and not keep it in, secondly to raise awareness of how often this is happening, and last but not least, to get help in doing something about it.
Sexual harassment cases often deal with more than just physical injuries. Victims experience mental and emotional harm that can have wide-reaching effects throughout one's lifespan.
How can you prevent sexual harassment at work?
Prevention is the main way to combat sexual harassment at work. There is also a need to take complaints more seriously.
By communicating to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, by training on harassment prevention, by establishing an effective complaint process, and by taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains, employers have an opportunity to stop inappropriate behaviour and prevent emotional and physical damage.
As in many areas of life, communication is the best tool to face sexual harassment. Hiding this situation if brought to your knowledge makes you an accomplice, re-victimising the person and increasing the chances of more employees being affected. Normalising these behaviours creates an atmosphere of approval and promotes repetition.
It´s of great importance for all employees to be well informed on this topic and for such cases to be addressed with caution and care.
Let's make sure we raise awareness and bring about positive change, in order to work towards putting an end to this.
Contact me if you´re interested in receiving workshops on sexual health education and development.
El acoso sexual y el acoso por razón de sexo en el ámbito laboral en España, Delegación del Gobierno contra la Violencia de Género
Macrosurvey on Violence Against Women, Secretaría de Estado de Igualdad y Contra la Violencia de Género