Sexual violence in the workplace is one of the most underreported and under-investigated crimes in various societies around the world. Despite a growing push in recent years to instigate policies and behaviours that attempt to combat this violence; it remains a prevalent and silent problem in workplaces with severe and lasting impacts on victims of this crime.

Sexual violence is defined as any sort of non-consensual or unwanted sexual behaviour, which makes the victim feel violated, humiliated or offended. According to various data, women are overwhelmingly the most common gender who experience sexual violence in the workplace, estimated at being the victim in 80% of rape cases with more than 38% of women experiencing some sort of sexual harassment in the workplace in their lifetimes. Despite these studies, however, the connection between data, research and workplace action is severely understudied and meaning the issue rarely receives the funding or attention it needs.

Only as recently as 2013 did the United Nations officially declare sexual harassment as a form of violence against women in at attempt to bring focus to this issue and its impacts. Sexual violence in the workplace undermines women in all forms of their professional lives, affecting their participation in the business, equality to other co-workers and overall success in career building. Many victims are affected by various emotional and physical hardships for years and often the rest of their lives.

Sexual violence is a large problem within traditionally male-dominated professions. In the United States, the military is currently experiencing a pervasive difficulty with sexual assaults, with the Pentagon releasing figures that estimate up to 20,300 members of the military were sexually assaulted in 2014. The seriousness of the problem caused the UN to formally recommend that the US take every action to ‘prevent sexual violence in the military and ensure effective prosecution of offenders and redress for victims’.

In the United States, military cases of sexual violence are often unreported and very rarely do perpetrators get convicted. Victims often feel shame and fear losing their honour if they report the assaults to upper commands. In certain cases, victims have turned to online blogs to share their stories but still choose to remain anonymous. In one such case, a female who was raped at one of her duty stations recounts how when the rape was reported and investigated she experiences ‘ongoing harassment about proceeding with the case; one counsellor told me that if women just said yes there would be no rape’. These sentiments are part of an alarming echo of continuing and large-scale sexual violence in the US military.

Cases of sexual violence in the workplace occur in nearly every country in the world. In Japan, 50% of lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers had experienced some form of sexual violence, with many of the affected workers experiencing severe depression, resulting it suicide attempts. In Japan where business is highly dominated by men and social and cultural structures often normalise behaviours that may be considered inappropriate, women often experience feelings of shame and stay silent about incidents of sexual violence they have experienced.

The question now posed to the international society is how to combat these problems within workforces, in order to ensure employees stop resolving to ‘never report a rape again’.

– Anusha Muller, Correspondent (Our World)

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