Author Bio ▼

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, who has also contributed to numerous national business titles including Utility Week, the Municipal Journal, Environment Journal and consumer titles such as Classic Rock.

January 21, 2019

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sexual harassment at work

Shining a light on sexual harassment at work

One of the biggest news stories of last year saw number of high-profile men hit the headlines in the face of allegations of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment

The #MeToo and TimesUp movements brought the issue of sexual harassment out into the open, with many people speaking out about their own experiences.

The issue continues to dominate the headlines and recently it was revealed that one in three UN workers has been sexually harassed in the past two years.

In a survey, which was carried out by Deloitte, more than half of those who experienced sexual harassment at the UN say it happened in an office environment, while another 17.1% say it took place at a work-related social event.

And now, BBC3 has launched a new programme, which is available to watch online via iPlayer, which examines the issue of what constitutes sexual harassment at work.

The programme is hosted by journalist and presenter Ben Zand and brings together 20 people between the ages of 18-30 to see if they understand the rules of behaviour in the workplace.

Over the course of two days, they watch a specially written drama in three parts telling the story of a professional relationship between a man and woman at work which ends with an accusation of sexual harassment.

At each stage, the group are given the opportunity to vote on the behaviour displayed and if it is offensive or unwanted, before finally voting if they believe it constitutes sexual harassment.

They also hear directly from people whose lives have been affected by sexual harassment, including a false accusation of harassment.

The programme reveals just how much confusion and disagreement there is when it comes to specifying exactly where a line should be drawn  a line which can become blurred. It shows the significant differences that exist between the genders when it comes to their perspective on what is acceptable.

A survey in 2017 for BBC Radio 5 Live showed that 53% of women and 20% of men in the UK say they have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.

The survey also showed that 63% of women who said they had been harassed didn’t report it to anyone, and 79% of the male victims also kept it to themselves.

And finally, the group hears from a barrister who lays down the law and answers the question posed by the drama is this sexual harassment?

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

In 2016, the Trades Union Congress published an in-depth report on sexual harassment in the workplace, entitled Still just a bit of banter?

A poll commissioned for that report found that more than half (52%) of the women surveyed have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

Other key findings included:

  • 35% of women have heard comments of a sexual nature being made about other women in the workplace;
  • 32% of women have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature;
  • 28% of women have been subject to comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes;
  • Nearly one quarter of women have experienced unwanted touching (such as a hand on the knee or lower back);
  • One fifth of women have experienced unwanted sexual advances

Some examples of behaviour that could constitute sexual harassment are:

  • Indecent or suggestive remarks;
  • Questions, jokes, or suggestions about a colleague’s sex life;
  • The display of pornography in the workplace
  • The circulation of pornography (by email, for example);
  • Unwelcome and inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing;
  • Requests or demands for sexual favours.

And as the TUC report notes, sexual harassment can take place in a range of different locations and that social media and email are increasingly involved in workplace sexual harassment.

“As well as taking different forms and occurring in a wide range of settings, sexual harassment may be perpetrated by various different people including a manager, a potential employer, a colleague, a client, a patient, or a customer,” the report states.

“For example, a care worker might be harassed by a client when on a home visit. Or a prospective employer might demand sexual favours of an actor at a casting. Sexual harassment perpetrated by a client or customer is referred to as third party harassment.”

The BBC3 programme is not the only video that covers this important issue. In June last year, actors Rashida Jones and Donald Glover teamed up to make an animated “public service announcement” video for the Time’s Up movement.

The animation is directed by Jones and narrated by Glover and discusses questions about sexual harassment.

The video covers a number of issues, including whether it is all right to greet colleagues with a full body hug or tell a co-worker they look sexy.

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