Do you know how to identify sexual harassment in the workplace?

Almost every woman, trans or non-binary person you know can, unfortunately, tell you about an experience in which they have been a victim of gender-based violence – from being catcalled to sexual assault. If you are a woman, trans or non-binary person yourself, this is most likely not news to you. 

Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)  is embedded in our society’s patriarchal structure in which men have traditionally controlled the power. It is present in all the spheres of our lives, especially in our relationships – whether they are with family members, partners or colleagues. It affects all of us, but its effects can be more harmful for those who are part of minority groups (migrants, women of colour, LGBTQ+, undocumented people, etc.). 

Sexual harassment is a form of VAWG which may also occur in the workplace.

It can manifest itself in sexist practices, ranging from “casual” and seemingly harmless habits – such as a joke or a gesture – to sexual assault and even feminicide – the killing of a woman on the basis of her gender. Certain behaviours have become so normalised that, sometimes, we fail to recognize that they are acts of violence.  

So, what is sexual harassment in the workplace?      

It is any unwelcome sexual behaviour that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating working environment and which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a worker.

To better understand the presence of these elements, you should also take into account that: 

  • A sexual behaviour may comprise physical, verbal, and non-verbal conducts (e.g., texts and images);
  • It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator alleges they didn’t intend to make the victim feel uncomfortable; 
  • Free and valid consent is key in any adult sexual contact;
  • The victim doesn’t need to have a written contract from their employer to receive protection;
  • When one’s dignity is affected, it may lead to feelings of shame, humiliation, fear, frustration, vulnerability; and
  • A hostile environment may be intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive.

Can you recognise sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a serious incident of sexual assault, but it can also be a less obvious conduct which makes you uncomfortable. It may be sexual comments or jokes about yourself or a colleague; physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances – such as touching, hugging or kissing, and various forms of sexual assault. It also includes displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature – such as circulating  pornography, by email or WhatsApp, or having pictures of naked/semi-naked women in the workplace. It could be, as well, requests or demands for sexual favours, or even leering or staring inappropriately. 

If you are unsure whether you have been a victim of sexual harassment, or you want to protect yourself or a colleague from it,  you can ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have I been exposed to a conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace coming from a superior or colleague? 
  2. Has such behaviour been undesired and/or unrequested by me? 
  3. Has such behaviour affected my dignity as a person?
  4. Has the situation created a hostile environment in my workplace?

It is important to know that sexual harassment in the workplace, and other forms of abuse of power and VAWG, are illegal – most of them punishable by law. The UK has a legal system containing rules that protect you from these behaviours, and that enshrine your rights, especially those ensuring you can live your life with dignity and free of violence.

You can promote the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, by requesting your employer to have a clear, comprehensive policy in place against sexual harassment. In case of an alleged sexual harassment case, this policy will alert all parties to their rights, roles and responsibilities. It should also set out how to promptly and efficiently deal with a sexual      harassment claim.

If you think that you or a friend or colleague have been victim of sexual harassment in the      workplace, you can contact your Union’s Women Officer and/ or representative. They can guide you on what to do next. You can also contact specialist organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), through our Helpline 0808- 145-4909 or by email: info@lawrs.org.uk.      

If the harassment is very serious, it might also be a crime. If a colleague or supervisor has sexually assaulted you or made physical threats, or you are worried about your safety, you can contact the police or the National Health Service (NHS). You have a right to ask for an interpreter when you speak to them.

Always remember that you are not alone, and that it is not your fault.


The Unheard Workforce

The Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) is launching its latest report: “The Unheard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work” 

Download report

On the 17th July 2019, LAWRS launched the research “The Unheard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work”. Funded by Trust for London

The research draws on 326 cases of women supported at the Employment Rights Advice Service of the organisation. It presents an array of deeply concerning labour rights violations experienced by Latin American migrant women employed in three key feminised sectors of London’s manual labour: cleaning, hospitality, and domestic work.

Among the key results arising from these cases, we found that:

  • Over half of the workers faced breaches to their contracts (62%). Unlawful deduction of wages was the most common type of abuse (151 cases, 46%).
  • 1 in 5 (20%) experienced illegal underpayment of the National Minimum Wage.
  • 17% were unlawfully denied the annual leave they were entitled to, and 16% were not paid accrued in lieu annual leave once they left the company.
  • Health and safety issues were present in 25% of the cases – predominantly injury due to the nature of the work (33%), limited or no protective equipment (17%), and lack of training (12%).
  • Over two in five (41%) of women in the sample have experienced discrimination, harassment or unreasonable treatment.
  • 66% experienced bullying or unreasonable treatment as regular occurrences.
  • A large proportion endured verbal and/or faced physical abuse, 37% and 11% respectively.
  • 16% of the women endured a total of 13 different types of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
  • Abuse on the grounds of maternity was experienced by 9% of women. This includes failure to pay for hours spent at prenatal appointments and denial of risk assessments during pregnancy.
  • 11 cases of potential trafficking for labour exploitation were identified: 7 were cleaners or hospitality workers and 4 were domestic workers.

“We are not machines or numbers. We are human beings who want to work and to be treated with dignity and respect. We want nothing more and nothing less.”

Watch the full short documentary below:

“Undocumented Latin American migrant woman’s experiences of labour abuse in London”

This documentary was made with the support of Media Trust by the filmmaker Andrew Contreras


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Anti-Slavery Day

Anti-Slavery Day

On Anti-Slavery day – October 18th – we want to add our voice to raise awareness of the need to eradicate all forms of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation.

In the UK, Latin American women workers are affected by “in- work” poverty and remain concentrated in vulnerable, low-paid, over-exploitative, unregulated jobs. European data also indicates a much worse scenario, as Brazilians are one of the top five nationalities of trafficked victims in Europe.

Research by LAWRS showed that 57% of women experience verbal abuse and threats, 17% of them earn less than the national minimum wage and nearly 40% do not have a written contract.

 

LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Anti-Slavery Day

 

“It is crucial that migrant women who experience extreme labour exploitation in outsourcing sectors like cleaning, catering and hospitality are recognised as victims regardless of the immigration status they hold. Establishing a firewall for safe reporting will ensure that labour enforcement and the police better identify vulnerabilities of insecure legal status used by traffickers and abusive employers,” says Nahir de la Silva, Policy and Communications Coordinator for Employment Rights at LAWRS.