A third of people would challenge sexual harassment

Campaigners protested against sexual harassment at the Reclaim the Night march in Manchester in February
Joel Goodman/LNP/REX/Shutterstock

More than a third (35%) of people would speak up about sexual harassment, following a shift in the kind of behaviour considered appropriate over the past year. 

Movements such as #MeToo and a greater public concern about sexual harassment have led 53% of people to suggest that the behaviour seen as appropriate and inappropriate has changed in the last 12 months.

Research by the Fawcett Society found the shift in attitude was more pronounced in the 18-24 age category, where 54% of women and 56% of men said they now thought differently about what is acceptable.

However, the willingness to challenge sexual harassment differed with age. Though half of women and 58% of men aged 18-35 were more willing to speak up in the past 12 months, men over 55 were more likely to ignore harassment – only 24% said they would challenge such behaviour.

Yet, despite people appearing more confident to speak up, harassment in the workplace is still common. Last week a survey by Slater and Gordon found that four in 10 women had been harassed at work in the last 12 months – including 39% who had witnessed a colleague being abused.

The report – #MeToo one year on – what’s changed? – suggests a number of legislative changes that need to be made to stamp out sexual harassment. These include:

  • bringing back section 40 of the Equality Act 2010, which provided protection against harassment by third parties such as customers, clients and patients in the healthcare sector. Section 40 was repealed in 2013;
  • a duty for employers to prevent discrimination and harassment, with employers with 250 staff or more having to set out and report on an action plan. This recommendation has also been made by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Women and Equalities Committee;
  • the introduction of issues such as gendered violence and consent in the forthcoming Relationships and Sex Education guidance; and
  • making misogyny a hate crime.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “This survey confirms that we have had a year of disruptive attitudinal and behavioural change and that was long overdue. Other evidence shows we are also still seeing significant numbers of women being sexually harassed at work. Now it is time for tougher legislation and real, lasting culture change.

“Older men have to be part of the change because they often hold positions of power. But their attitudes are lagging behind. They don’t seem to realise the #MeToo movement is also about them.”

The survey of more than 2,000 people also found that 28% of men and 34% of women had had a conversation with someone of the same sex about sexual harassment in the last year, with young people the most likely to have had a discussion (50% of women and 54% of men aged 18-34).

Women earning up to £20,000 a year were just as likely to challenge sexual harassment as those earning over £40,000.

Sarah Green, co-director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition lobbying group, said the UK’s justice system was resisting change and “has been shown to be putting women on trial for their choices and even the text messages they send their friends on their phones, rather than the perpetrators who need to be held to account”.

“The justice system, and everyone who minimises or makes excuses for this behaviour, will not be able to do so with cover for much longer,” she said.

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