There may not be a strict definition of what constitutes sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace, but it comes down to how the victim feels about the behaviour towards them.
The Equality Act 2010 explains that sexual harassment can often have the effect of affecting someone’s dignity, as well as creating an intimidating, humiliating or hostile environment for them.
A 2016 study from Trades Union Congress questioned 1,500 women and found that more than half have been victims of unwanted sexual behaviour at work, including things like inappropriate jokes and groping.
And while this figure is shocking, it’s not just women who can be affected by sexual abuse in the workplace. Sexual harassment can typically fall into three categories – they are physical, verbal and non-verbal.
Types of sexual abuse might include questions about your sex life, comments about your clothing or appearance, physical touching or caressing, staring at a person’s body or showing them sexually explicit materials.
Preventing sexual abuse in the workplace
There are simple steps that employers can take to help to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace such as:
Adopting a clear policy for sexual harassment – having one in place ensures that employees feel safe in knowing that their concerns will be heard. This policy can define what this behaviour is, the steps that will be taken after a report of sexual harassment, and who people can talk to regarding this.
Ensuring all members of staff are regularly trained in this area – Each year it’s important that employees are trained about what sexual harassment is and informed of what they can do if they feel they’re being subjected to it.
Training higher level staff – Ensure that higher members of staff, such as supervisors and managers are trained in dealing with reports of sexual harassment, so they know what to do when an employee speaks to them about it.
What you can do if it happens to you
If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace there are some things you can do, such as keeping a diary of the things that have made you feel uncomfortable. You could make it clear to the person who is doing it that you feel uncomfortable with their behaviour. Speak to a supervisor or a manager in your workplace about the next steps that can be taken.