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Sexual abuse & sexual violence awareness week 2022

Sexual Abuse & Sexual Awareness Week 2022 - #ItsNotOk

Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week falls on the first full week of February every year. It aims to provide a platform for organisations and individuals to speak out about this sensitive issue, which can often be concealed and ignored. Therefore this week, from the 7th to the 13th of February, it’s hoped many organisations, charities, schools and businesses will get involved through holding events or raising awareness.

The statistics

According to the ONS in the year ending March 2020, more than 750,000 adults aged 16-74 were victims of sexual assult or attempted sexual assult. This accounted for 618,000 women and 155,000 men, meaning women were four times more likely to have experienced sexual assult or attempted sexual assult than men. 

A YouGov poll carried out in March 2020 found alarming statistics when it came to sexual abuse among women in the UK, and highlights the need for the problem to be addressed. As a society we shouldn’t tolerate sexual harassment and change needs to be led by government, authorities and businesses, so victims feel more supported to be able to speak out.

- 71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space – this number rises to 86% among 18-24-year-olds.
- The two main reasons women of all ages cited for not reporting incidents are: “I didn’t think the incident was serious enough to report” (55%) and “I didn’t think reporting it would help” (45%)
- 44% of women agreed that having more confidence that reporting the incident would prevent it from happening again would encourage them to report.

YouGov poll for UN Women

Sexual harassment in the workplace 

The Fawcett Society found that the pandemic hasn’t resulted in the end of sexual harassment, instead it has moved online in the form of sexual messages, cyber harassment and sexual calls. In fact, almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said it had increased or escalated since working from home. It also further highlights that race or disability for example can increase a woman’s risk of sexual harassment. The research showed that 68% of disabled women, compared to 52% of women in general, reported being sexually harassed at work. In terms of race, ethnic minority workers (both men and women) reported higher rates of sexual harassment than white workers (32% vs 28%), with 68% of LGBT workers experiencing some form of harassment in the workplace.

While the Equality Act 2010 makes sexual harassment unlawful it is clear that it is a huge problem in the workplace and more needs to be done to change this. Last July the government committed to legislation for a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment, after the resullts of the consultation on harassment in the workplace was published. This could see employers responsible for protecting their employees from harassment by third parties, such as customers and clients and taking ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent harassment from happening. 

How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

It’s important that employers take a proactive approach to tackling sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s about creating a culture where everybody feels safe, appreciated and treats each other with dignity and respect. In some cases victims do not feel able to report sexual harassment as they believe it will not be taken seriously and will be brushed aside. Given the fact that it is a very difficult subject to talk about, especially for those who have been abused, it makes it even harder to understand the true extent of the problem and know how to approach it. Some managers may not feel equipped to deal with claims of sexual harassment and often the organisation will want to keep any allegation quiet for fear of it ruining their business's reputation. 

While many organisations have a separate sexual harassment policy in place and clear statements that it will not be tolerated it is not enough. An employer needs to create a positive workplace culture where staff feel safe and supported, as well as ensure they pursue a diverse and inclusive environment. To do this employers need to first demonstrate they are committed to removing and preventing any negative behaviour such as harassment. They can conduct anonymous surveys to measure attitudes towards sexual harassment, provide guidance to line managers for handling any disclosures or provide awareness training for every employee. Understanding the nature of the problem as well as educating employees about what sexual harassment is will help organisations make progress. Reviewing methods of reporting sexual abuse will help ensure victims are treated sensitively and fairly and feel more able to disclose any issues.

Most importantly, an organisation that wants to strive for success and benefit from a diverse and inclusive workforce must ensure they are addressing any weaknesses in their culture, whether that is sexual harassment or another form of workplace bullying. Only then can your employees feel comfortable to be productive and creative to help take your business forward. 

If you are looking for more information on sexual harassment in the workplace why not check out our FAQ & resources page here. You can also download our Sexual Harassment in UK Workplaces white paper to gain a greater understanding of the topic.

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