The courage of women who have spoken up and named and shamed those who have victimised them in the past has unleashed a new impetus for culture change. Speaking up takes incredible courage, particularly as the person who has been sexually harassed, abused or raped then faces the risk of being further victimised. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by anyone and can happen to anyone, although there is a higher percentage towards women than men, and is usually perpetrated by someone we know. Astoundingly, a high proportion of women face harassment in the workplace.
A recent survey of British women and men carried out by BBC Radio 4 Live found
- 53% of women and 20% of men had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or at their place of study
- 63% of women and 79% of men did not tell anyone or report it
- 30% of women and 12% of men were targeted by a boss or senior manager
- 1 in 10 women left their job or place of study due to experiencing sexual harassment
Why is sexual harassment so prevalent in the workplace? Well, as we have recently heard in the news, not all workplaces are prepared for dealing with it. Westminster itself had no support system in place for safe or appropriate reporting of sexual crimes. Only recently has PM Theresa May issued a code of conduct and a new complaints procedure. This raised questions as to why one was needed in the first place. Surely everyone knows the limits of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour? Sadly, it seems if there’s a little bit of leeway for getting away with it, perpetrators of abuse will always push the boundaries.
So, what can organisations do?
Clear messages need to be sent out within a workplace of what is and is not acceptable in terms of behaviour as well as safe and appropriate procedures for reporting abuse.
Having a clarity of message ensures that there is no excuse for the behaviour. The risks faced by women and men who have been sexually abused, particularly at work, include the fear of not being believed or supported, being labelled a trouble-maker, blowing the situation out of proportion, making it worse, losing their job, feeling shame or made to feel they are responsible for it in some way, which leads us to the concept of victim-blaming.
A social norm that needs to change
Victim blaming is an unhealthy message that society has upheld for a long time and needs to change. The focus of attention is on the victim and their behaviour, what the person who suffered abuse should have done or not have done, meanwhile where is the perpetrator in all of this? Due to this unhealthy attitude of focusing on the victim the perpetrator of abuse has now become invisible and is free to find someone else to abuse. Now at last, with all the media attention, the focus and shame lie fully where it belongs, spotlighted on the perpetrator.
This problem is prevalent due to the messages portrayed by society that make perpetrators feel they can get away with it. It doesn’t help when a female judge states that a woman is asking for it if she’s drunk and/or wearing a short skirt. This plays directly into the mindset of a perpetrator who can then justify their behaviour. Sexual harassment is caused by the need for one person to gain power and control over another, having a sense of entitlement and revealing their true beliefs that women are inferior. Perpetrators will use negative, manipulative communication such as, “Can’t you take a joke? I didn’t mean it.” Thereby exploiting their victim’s sense of fear and knowing the risks they face in reporting the abuse. Perpetrators are aware of their behaviour and know it is unacceptable, illegal and harmful to others but do it anyway. Along with this is a distinct lack of empathy for how their victims feel i.e. Harvey Weinstein denying any claims of non-consensual sex.
Just for the record… A woman has the right to have a drink and choose what she wants to wear without having to risk unwanted sexual advances, or at the worst, rape