ICTU Survey reveals Shockingly High Levels of Under-Reporting of Sexual Harassment at Work

25 Nov 2019

Sexual Harassment

ICTU Survey Reveals Shockingly High Levels of Under-Reporting of Sexual Harassment at Work

Four out of five workers experiencing sexual harassment at work do not report the incident to their employer according to a new survey from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, Congress surveyed more than 1,300 union members with experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is defined in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person. It is prohibited under the Acts.

Commenting on the survey Congress General Secretary, Patricia King said: “Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Yet all too often, it happens in the workplace.

“Of all the alarming statistics thrown up by the polling, the fact that jumps out for me is the unacceptably high levels of under-reporting and dissatisfaction with their employer’s action among those who do report sexual harassment” she added.

81 per cent of respondents did not report the unwanted sexual behaviour to their employer, while only one in four of the minority who did report such incidents felt it was taken seriously and dealt with satisfactorily.

The national opinion poll of 1,347 union members with experience of sexual harassment at work was conducted online between 1 and 14 November 2019. Around 7 out of 10 (72 per cent) of the responses were from women (971). The survey focuses exclusively on people’s experience of sexual harassment in the workplace, rather than measuring the scale of the problem.

“We wanted a deeper understanding of workers’ experience of sexual harassment at work - the types of incidents experienced, the perpetrators and location, the barriers to reporting, and the impact sexual harassment has on the lives of those affected” said Congress Social Policy Officer and lead researcher, Dr Laura Bambrick.

"For instance, the Christmas party has long been identified as the most common off-site location of workplace sexual harassment, and this is borne out in our survey. However, the extent of unwanted sexual behaviour from colleagues taking place online also reported, points to a growing problem in the modern workplace” she said.

One in five sexual harassment incidents reported had taken place at a work-related social event. One in seven had taken place on the phone, by email or online.

“While the #MeToo movement has shed light on the hidden problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault at work and empowered women to speak out, the fear of a negative impact on their career or of not being believed or taken seriously were the most common reported reasons for not pursing a complaint” Dr Bambrick added.

“Trade unions and employers play an important role in preventing violence and harassment against women at work. Congress together with trade unions across Europe are calling for the ratification by Member States of the ILO Convention 190 to address violence against women, including in the world of work” said Congress Equality Officer David Joyce.

Ms King said “The Employment Equality Acts places an onus on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers must act urgently and proactively to tackle this problem – raise awareness that such behaviour is unacceptable and may be subject to discipline, implement a comprehensive policy, set up proper, timely procedures for reporting, support the victims and deal with the perpetrators. There needs to be real consequences for those employers who don’t comply with their obligations. Everyone has the right to respect and wellbeing at work.”

Key Headline Findings –

Incidence

We asked respondents to select from several options the type of sexual harassment experienced and let them select more than one option in recognition of the fact they might have had multiple experiences.

  1. More than half (54 per cent) of respondents have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature.
  2. Two in five (41 per cent) reported receiving unwelcome verbal sexual advances in the workplace.
  3. More than a third (37 per cent) have been subject to unwelcome comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes.
  4. More than a third (37 per cent) have experienced unwanted touching, such as a hand on the knee or lower back.
  5. A third (34 per cent) have been subject to unwelcome questions or comments about their sex life.
  6. Around a quarter (23 per cent) reported receiving unwanted messages with material of a sexual nature by email, text or over social media from colleagues.
  7. Around one in six respondents (17 per cent) have been exposed to displays of pornographic photographs or drawings in the workplace.
  8. Around one in seven (15 per cent) reported experiencing unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them.
  9. Around one in seven (15 per cent) have been subject to unwelcome questions or comments of a sexual nature about their sexual orientation.
  10. Two per cent of all respondents reported being seriously sexually assaulted or rape at work, of which five respondents said that this occurred within the past 12 months.

 

Perpetrators and location

  • In line with existing research on sexual harassment, the Congress survey found that in eight out of ten cases (81 per cent) the perpetrator of the most recent incident was a man.
  • For the majority, the harasser had been a colleague (54 per cent).
  • One in three (31 per cent) reported that their direct manager or another manager was the perpetrator.
  • Over half (55 per cent) of sexual harassment incidents reported had taken place on work premises.
  • However, a significant minority (20 per cent) of the sexual harassment reported had taken place at a work related social event such as a Christmas party.
  • One in seven (14 per cent) incidents reported had taken place on the phone, by email or on social media.

 
Reporting

  • Four in five respondents (81 per cent) did not report the sexual harassment to their employer.
  • Of the minority (19 per cent) who did report the unwanted sexual behaviour to their employer, very few saw a positive outcome. Three quarters (15 per cent of all respondents) felt that it was not dealt with satisfactorily, half of whom reported that they were treated worse as a result e.g. passed over for promotion or other opportunities, targeted for further bullying or harassment.
  • Around one third of respondents who did not report the incident to their employer feared that doing so would have a negative impact on their working relationships (32 per cent) while one in four feared it would have a negative impact on their career (27per cent).
  • Around one quarter (28 per cent) did not think they would be believed or taken seriously, while a further one in eight (12 per cent) thought they would be blamed if they reported the unwanted sexual behaviour to their employer.
  • One in four (26 per cent) did not believe the person responsible would be sufficiently punished.
  • One in four (26 per cent) said they were too embarrassed to report the unwanted sexual behaviour to their employer.
  • One in ten (10 per cent) did not report the incident because the perpetrator was part of the reporting process.
  • One in five were unaware that they could report or know how to report the harassment.

 

Impact

  • Those polled were asked to choose from several options describing the effect that the harassment had on them. Half reported that they felt embarrassed (52 per cent).
  • Two in five (41 per cent) reported that they avoid certain work situations as a result.
  • Around one third (30 per cent) reported that they felt less confident at work, while one in five (18 per cent) felt it had a negative impact on their performance at work.
  • One in four (26 per cent) reported that the harassment had a negative impact on their mental health, and a further one in ten (10 per cent) reported that there was a negative impact on their physical health.
  • One in six (16 per cent) had wanted to leave their job as a result but had been unable due to financial or other factors. A further one in twenty (6 per cent) reported the harassment had caused them to change their role within the company or to leave their job with that employer.

For further information contact: Conor Kavanagh, ICTU Communications Office, on 086 8116607

ENDS