Sexist behaviour is increasingly being challenged in the workplace but there is still a long way to go.
Former Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis has been found guilty of indecently assaulting a researcher working on TV's Mrs Merton Show in 1995. Slater and Gordon specialist Abuse Team represented a number of alleged victims of Dave Lee Travis. During the trial, Travis claimed he was a product of a “different world” and that “if patting somebody's bottom was a crime in the 70s, half the country would be in jail”.
We are reminded of the troubling features of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the fact that women have always been understandably reluctant to speak out. In this case, the woman waited nearly 20 years before reporting her experience. We already know that harassers will attempt to portray their victims as being overly sensitive or hysterical by positioning themselves as behaving within the “norm”, or by stating that it was “just banter”.
In a recent survey into sexual harassment in the workplace commissioned by Slater and Gordon and polling 1,036 women, it became clear that:
- 60% had a male colleague behave ‘inappropriately’ towards them
- 1 in 6 had been forced to fend off a colleague who tried to kiss them
- 12% had a colleague place his hand on her behind
- More than 33% said a senior male colleague had made inappropriate comments about their bodies, appearance or private life
- 21% classed the behaviour as persistent
- 1 in 5 have wanted to leave a job after an incident
What’s more, the research showed that after an incident of inappropriate behaviour, women often found themselves ignored by the member of staff or even bad-mouthed or embarrassed, which acted as a deterrent to those thinking of reporting such behaviour. Survey respondents reported losing their jobs or being turned down for a promotion after rebuffing unwanted advances and nearly half said they thought sexist behaviour would always exist in the workplace. Nearly 20% said they may have been more successful professionally had they been more receptive to unwanted advances at work.
The survey highlights that sexual harassment remains a difficult issue for women and that they continue to suffer in silence in fear of not being believed or because they may lose their job. In our view, there is no defence to unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which violates an individual’s dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or degrading environment.
Speaking out is a brave thing to do, and will contribute towards drawing clear boundaries of acceptable conduct. However, staying silent is what the harasser is counting on.
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