70% of employees afraid to report sexual harassment

This is Singapore’s first-ever national survey on the issue

70% of employees afraid to report sexual harassment

Only three in 10 victims of workplace sexual harassment in Singapore have filed official reports about their encounters.

Out of those reports, a mere two in five employees said that the harasser was reassigned or dismissed. While another one in five said that no action was taken despite presenting clear evidence.

The survey, a first here, found that two in five workers have experienced harassment in the past five years. Perpetrators were typically a peer or senior at the office.

Read more: Managing sexual harassment at work

Findings showed a lack of awareness among employees about what constituted sexual harassment at work. When respondents were initially asked if they had faced any incidents, only one in five said yes.

However, when specific situations were described, two in five admitted to experiencing such behaviours, according to local advocacy group AWARE.

Those examples of harassment were:

  • Sharing of lewd pictures, jokes, texts or gestures
  • Passing offensive remarks or questions about their appearances, bodies or sexual activities
  • Making crude or lewd remarks, jokes or gestures
  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Attempts to initiate romantic or sexual relationships
  • Implying that career prospects were tied to sexual favours

In almost all the scenarios, at least one in five employees said they had experienced it in one way or another. Some respondents were even able to share the number of times they faced a similar scenario in the past five years.

When asked why they didn’t report the incident at work, employees said they simply wanted to forget about them. Others thought the encounter wasn’t “severe enough” or believed they didn’t have enough evidence.

AWARE said the clear state of under-reporting here is proof that we can’t rely solely on official cases to determine just how bad things are.

“We have known for years that workplace sexual harassment is a problem in Singapore, as many clients at AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre have experienced it,” said Shailey Hingorani, head of research and advocacy at AWARE.

“However, up until now we have not had national data available on its prevalence. This survey changes that. It affirms that workplace sexual harassment is a pervasive and urgent problem.”

Read more: MOM reveals the number of workplace harassment cases

She added that leaders must do much more to address the worrying gap in understanding between what is and isn’t harassment.

“We recognise that Singapore is, in some regards, ahead of many countries in addressing the scourge of sexual violence,” she said. “However, when it comes to workplace sexual harassment in particular, we appear to lag behind countries that have specific legislations on the matter.

“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.”

While there isn’t specific legislation against sexual harassment in Singapore, employers can access overall guidelines on how to manage harassment in general, including threatening or abusive behaviour, cyber bullying, and stalking.

Officially, Singapore has a Protection from Harassment Act which covers issues like harassment and unlawful stalking.

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