Research perspectives

Report shows extent of online sexual harassment

report from the Fawcett Society has found that 45 per cent of women who had experienced harassment encountered it online through sexual messages, cyber harassment and sexual calls.

Almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment had increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while they were working from home.

The report, which combined a review of existing literature with a poll of 290 workers who had experienced sexual harassment and a survey of 236 managers, found that more than half of women (52 per cent) have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, increasing to 68 per cent among disabled women.

Additionally, a third of all ethnic minority workers (32 per cent), including both men and women, reported experiencing sexual harassment over the last 12 months, compared to 28 per cent of white workers, while 68 per cent of LGBT workers experienced some form of harassment at work.

Felicia Willow, interim chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said sexual harassment at work was “endemic” because employers were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to handle reports. “This creates a culture where the focus is on managing liability rather than stopping perpetrators and supporting women,” she said. “The current approach puts women in an unacceptably vulnerable position.”

The report outlines best practice on how organisations could create working cultures that don’t tolerate sexual harassment. It calls on businesses to conduct ‘climate surveys’ to measure their organisational attitudes towards sexual harassment and urged employers to treat employees who make a report with respect and empathy, to increase gender equality, and demonstrate leadership commitment to tackling harassment.