2 in 5 workers polled faced sexual harassment

Two in five workers polled in Singapore's first nationally representative survey on workplace sexual harassment said they have been victims of such unwelcome sexual advances or remarks in the office in the past five years.

About one in three of those who were harassed suffered at the hands of their boss or someone more senior than them in the office.

But only one in three victims reported the harassment to their boss, a senior person at work or their human resource department.

The study was carried out by market research firm Ipsos and gender equality organisation Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

A total of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents, both working men and women, were polled online in November last year, Aware said in a statement yesterday.

Of those who said they were sexually harassed at work, 18 per cent said they received crude and distressing remarks, jokes or gestures of a sexual or sexist nature.

Another 16 per cent heard offensive or alarming remarks or questions about their body, appearance or sexual activities, while some 13 per cent were physically touched in an unwelcome way.

But only one in three reported the harassment to an official authority at work.

Those who did not said they wanted to forget the unpleasant experience or felt what they had experienced was not serious enough. Some also felt they had no evidence of the wrongdoing.

In about 40 per cent of the harassment cases reported by the victims to their management, the perpetrator was reassigned to another job role or sacked.

However, in about 20 per cent of the cases, the harasser faced no consequence despite evidence of the offence.

Ms Shailey Hingorani, Aware's head of research and advocacy, said of the study: "It affirms that workplace sexual harassment is a pervasive and urgent problem."

In 2019, Aware started the Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory Service offering support to people facing harassment at work.

Among those it has helped was Maria (not her real name), who was groped by a colleague who is her peer at work.

She filed a police report and the company started an internal investigation.

But the man continued to make Maria feel unsafe at work, and she decided to quit.

Then there is Jonathan (not his real name), whose male supervisor made comments about his private parts, among other acts of harassment.

Jonathan reported the matter to his company's human resource department, but his complaint was dismissed as "HR found it hard to believe that a man could be subject to sexual harassment", Aware said.

Calling on the Government to introduce legislation against workplace harassment, Aware also said there should be regular anti-harassment training across industries and the universal adoption of grievance-handling policies.

Ms Hingorani said: "Giving employers an explicit statutory obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment, and educating workers on the remedies available to them against their employers would provide a firm foundation from which to eradicate this very insidious and damaging behaviour."

Commenting on the study, Singapore Human Resources Institute executive director Alvin Goh said that companies should develop an anti-harassment policy with a clear explanation of what harassment is and also look into developing training programmes for all their staff to prevent such harassment and support affected victims.

A spokesman for the Institute for Human Resource Professionals said: "Societal norms are evolving and more employers are today taking steps to implement workplace practices to address the problem of sexual harassment."

How to deal with such incidents

Advice from gender equality group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) on how to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

• Consider talking to someone you trust.

• Seek advice or counselling from an organisation or service that specialises in helping those who have experienced sexual harassment, such as Aware's Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory. This can be for emotional support, advice on the next steps to take and, in some cases, practical support such as befriending services and referral to legal help.

• Review your company's internal workplace sexual harassment policies. Not all companies have such a policy, but it is good to check if yours has one and if so, what the protocols are. You may want to look out for confidentiality clauses, who to approach and how to file a report internally.

• Document everything you can. To the best of your memory, keep a detailed written record of any actions, comments or incidents that occurred. This could include a date, place and description of what happened, if there were witnesses, and what your own reaction was. If there are texts or e-mails, save them. If you choose to file a report either legally or internally, this may be used as evidence.

•Aware's Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory is a free service providing advice and support to those facing discrimination or harassment at work. You can call them on 6950-9191.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2021, with the headline 2 in 5 workers polled faced sexual harassment. Subscribe