Two in five workers in Singapore say they have been sexually harassed at work: Aware study

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.
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.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Two in five workers in Singapore polled in the 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 the gender-equality organisation Aware.

A total of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents, both working men and women, were polled online in November last year, said Aware in a statement on Thursday (Jan 14).

Of those who said they were sexually harassed at work, slightly over half received crude remarks, pictures or texts of a sexual or sexist nature that alarmed or distressed them or they were asked questions or heard offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities.

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 wrong-doing.

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 their 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.

A police report was filed 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, whose male supervisor made comments about his private parts, among other acts of harassment. Jonathan reported the matter to his company's human resources 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.

Said Ms Hingorani: "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."