House of Commons, United Kingdom – Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Fifth Report of Session 2017-2019 – July 2018
This comprehensive report provides a broad and incisive perspective of the current state of sexual harassment in UK workplaces and sets out in great detail the failures of the existing system and why the present legal framework is inadequate to address the problem.
These inadequacies have been repeatedly highlighted across many developed countries since the emergence of the # MeToo movement. The comments and conclusions in the report are relevant to Australia where many surveys on the topic of sexual harassment have revealed that the same issues rear their heads in both countries.
The rates of workplace sexual harassment incidents are high in the UK, as is the case in Australia. In the UK 40 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men have experienced it. In Australia the figures appear to be even higher. An analysis by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 reported that 53 per cent of women and 2 per cent of men had been sexually harassed in their lifetime.
The Report criticises the UK Government for failing to carry out its responsibility to tackle sexual harassment by implementing systemic protections against it. This failure is in contrast to the stringent legal and regulatory responses to other workplace malpractices such as theft of data and money laundering. Once again, the parallels with Australia are clear.
There is a lack of appropriate support for victims of sexual harassment and internal grievance procedures do not work well. Thus the burden falls squarely on the victim to take complaints forward. In many cases, victims are reluctant to take any steps for fear of reprisals and victimisation.
The Report also lambasts the “improper” use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) which are often forced upon traumatised victims to ensure their continued silence.
This Report is well worth reading and digesting for us in Australia as it provides many important signposts about what can work and what does not in the battle against sexual harassment in the workplace.