Men just as much at risk from sexual harassment

26 Oct 2017

With the issue of sexual harassment at the forefront of the national agenda in recent weeks a Southampton lawyer is warning that it’s not just women who are at risk.

In recent weeks Hollywood has been rocked by claims of sexual assault from men and women and it has opened up frank discussions about the issue in other industries.

Simon Rhodes, senior partner and head of employment law at Trethowans, says sexual harassment is an issue for all genders and is urging men and women who have been affected to speak up.

“We generally see more harassment issues involving women victims than men. Far too many women are sexually harassed at work. I think the public would be surprised at the number of men who encounter sexual harassment in the workplace too. That’s from other men and from women. Sadly far fewer men come forward to “call out” their employers and talk about their experiences.”

A ComRes survey for the BBC last week found that 37% of respondents – 53% of women and 20% of men – said they had experienced sexual harassment, ranging from inappropriate comments to actual sexual assaults, at work or a place of study.

More than a quarter of people surveyed had suffered harassment in the form of inappropriate jokes or “banter” and nearly one in seven had suffered inappropriate touching.

Simon says: “I think culturally men can feel more pressure to shrug inappropriate situations off as ‘banter’.  Just think of the phrase ‘man up’. With sayings like that drilled into the male psyche it’s not surprising that men are not inclined to speak up when they’re harassed. We need to change that. The truth is that no one should have to put up with sexual harassment. It shouldn’t matter what  gender they are and what gender the person harassing them is.”

In the eyes of the law if someone degrades or humiliates or offends another person on the grounds of their gender, it is sexual harassment. That’s the case whether that’s the perpetrator’s intention, or whether that’s just the effect it has on the victim.

Simon says harassment can often stem from an abuse of power. “Employers need to take extra care to protect people who might be at risk, such as vulnerable workers, trainees, students and interns. For some perpetrators, sexual harassment in an expression of hostility. Whatever the cause of it, it is toxic and wrong. Trying to justify harassment  by saying it has been “taken the wrong way”, is not a defence ”

Simon urges anyone who is a victim of harassment in the workplace to speak up. He says: “You may be worried that you won’t be believed, or that things might get worse if you speak up, but your voice may make it stop. Calling out the perpetrator might help others too. Reporting the incident may encourage someone else to come forward. You may not be suffering alone.”

He also encourages employers to do more. “Employers should have clear policies outlawing harassment. It should be a named example of gross misconduct in your disciplinary procedure. All staff should be trained to spot it and prevent it from happening. Offering an Employment Assistance Programme for staff can be very helpful too.”

Listen again to Simon on BBC Radio Solent and BBC Radio Wiltshire.

For more guidance on harassment laws, either as an employee or employer, visit www.trethowans.com