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8 January 2021 | Podcasts | Article by Danielle Vincent

HJ Talks About Abuse: Sexual abuse in the workplace

Over recent years we have seen the #metoo movement make waves in the media, triggering much discussion on the topic of sexual abuse and harassment. It is fair to say that, previously this behaviour would have gone undiscussed and sadly, largely ignored.

HJ Talks About Abuse: Sexual abuse in the workplaceHJ Talks About Abuse: Sexual abuse in the workplaceHJ Talks About Abuse: Sexual abuse in the workplace

Numerous household names have disclosed abuse in the film industry when the Harvey Weinstein cases became public following a 2017 publication. Models, actresses, personal assistances, the list goes on, all came forward disclosing abuse which spanned decades.

We saw the release of film “Bombshell” at the end of 2019 which told the true-life accounts of three women at Fox News who set out to expose CEO Roger Alies for sexual harassment. Once again this film raised awareness and kick started conversations regarding this inappropriate behaviour many have faced. The film “The Assistant” was also released in 2019 written by Kitty Green exploring sexual harassment faced by a female junior assistant.

Of course, sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace is not limited to the film industry and affects both men and women.

An American study found that 1 in every 4 women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. A similar poll found 1 in 10 men experience sexual harassment. The study found a fourth of men are concerned of becoming falsely accused of sexual harassment.

The study found the Top 5 Industries with Highest Sexual Harassment Incidents:

  1. Business, Trade, Banking, and Finance
  2. Sales and Marketing
  3. Hospitality
  4. Civil Service
  5. Education, Lecturing, and Teaching

A UK investigation called “Still just a bit of banter?” conducted by the workers’ union, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), in association with feminist activist Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism Project, found that 63% of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 had experienced sexual harassment compared to 52% of women of all ages.

There is not a strict definition of what constitutes sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace, it is based on how the victim feels about the behaviour.

Harassment can include physical, verbal and nonverbal harassment. This can include for example; inappropriate jokes or comments, lewd emails, pornographic images or images of a sexual nature in the workplace. Sexual abuse may include comments about clothing or appearance, physical touching or staring at a person’s body. This in not an exhaustive list.

The Equality Act 2010 explains that sexual harassment can often have the impact of affecting someone’s dignity, creating an intimidating, humiliating or hostile environment for them.

Regarding liability for such behaviour, anyone who sexually harasses someone in the workplace is responsible for their own actions. However, in addition, employers can be responsible too under the term ‘vicarious liability’ and could be liable for civil claims for failings if they have failed to implement procedures and safeguarding.

Employers must do everything they reasonably can to make sure their employees and workers are protected from sexual harassment. Employers must adopt a clear policy for sexual harassment which must also set out the steps to be taken if someone feels they are being harassed. Training should be implemented, and regular refreshers completed by employees to ensure everyone is acting appropriately in the workplace and employees are protected.

In September 2020, Tory MP Charlie Elphicke was found guilty of three sex attacks after groping the breasts of two younger women and handed a two-year prison sentence. He had been Dover MP from 2010-2019. The former MP was also ordered to pay £35,000 in costs. This case is mentioned here to highlight that this individual was a trusted person with a successful career and was at one point a partner of a law firm. Such abuse takes place in Britain today, an abuser can take any shape and this should not prevent a victim coming forward.

The Law Gazette reported how law firm Reed Smith has apologised for its handling of sexual harassment allegations against Elphicke, the former partner at the international firm. Reed Smith have confirmed they have opened a review last month into allegations made by a former colleague’s of Elphicke in 2005. The review came after the former staff member told the Guardian newspaper that she left Reed Smith’s London office because of Elphicke’s behaviour.

Safeline provides guidance and support if you have been affected by this article.

It is important to highlight that anyone of any gender, in any role, and in any industry can be subject to sexual abuse and harassment.

Listen to past episodes of the HJ Talks About Abuse Podcast

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch. Please get in contact with Alan Collins or Danielle Vincent.

Author bio

Danielle is a Senior Associate in the Abuse Specialist Personal Injury Department. She specialises in representing survivors of abuse and has experience in bringing claims against a number of institutions as well as individual abusers.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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