Sexual harassment victims face career disruptions

SINGAPORE: In its qualitative study, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has found that women’s careers are disrupted after experiencing workplace sexual harassment.

Based on interviews conducted in 2019 and 2020 with 39 victims of sexual harassment in the last five years, the experience has a long-lasting effect on the sufferers. Twenty-two out of 39 participants said they quit their jobs after experiencing harassment while one in four respondents changed career paths.


According to Aware, the harassment ranged from verbal, the most common, to physical and technology-facilitated. The incidents occurred at the office, outside the office, and online.


The respondents’ bosses, or senior staff members in their organisations, were the majority of the perpetrators. The other identified perpetrators were colleagues or peers, clients, subordinates, strangers, or students.


The other long-term effects include reduced productivity, with nine in 10 respondents confirming the experience. This productivity loss lasted for an average of nearly three months from the date of the incident to the time that the respondents quit or transferred to another department.


Other findings include 54% of the respondents enduring a reduced income as a result of unemployment or working in lower-paying jobs after experiencing workplace sexual harassment.


Shailey Hingorani, head of Aware’s workplace harassment and discrimination advisory, said survivors of workplace sexual harassment resign to end the harassment or because of the resulting mental health impacts or negative reporting experiences.


“On the other hand, if they receive supportive first responses from colleagues, assistance from Human Resources trained in sensitive grievance handling, and protective measures against retaliation, they may not need to resort to such a drastic step as leaving the company,” HIngorani added.

Aware’s earlier survey with market research company, Ipsos, found that seven in 10 workers in Singapore who were sexually harassed at the workplace in the past five years opted not to report their experiences. One in five victims who reported the incident accepted that the culprit did not receive the appropriate consequence for the misconduct despite the presence of evidence.


Hingorani said that the implications of sexual harassment on one’s career have not been previously highlighted in Singapore as compared to the psychological and emotional impacts.


“This research adds dimension to the troubling picture of workplace harassment, so we can better understand the full extent of its damage — what it really does to a person’s life,” she noted.


Aware recommends that the government implement laws dealing with workplace sexual harassment and ensure that employers provide well-defined sexual harassment policies and gender-sensitive training.


Aware also suggested measures for protection to survivors and witnesses of such sexual harassment.


“Victim-survivors of workplace sexual harassment are simply looking to earn a living and pursue their professional goals. Instead, through no fault of their own, and on top of emotional trauma, they are beset with a wide range of harms — some of which have repercussions for the rest of their lives,” said Hingorani.


Meanwhile, the Ministry of Manpower and Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) said in a joint statement that the government constantly reviews its approach on harassment and will consider the findings and recommendations in Aware’s report.


“The government does not tolerate any form of workplace harassment, including workplace sexual harassment. Our agencies work closely with partners to manage such cases and support affected employees,” the statement read.


Tafep has been coordinating with Aware since 2019 for case referrals to the alliance with the consent of the individual involved.


“We have reached out to Aware to seek the consent of the 39 clients mentioned in its report for referral to Tafep. There are safeguards in place to protect those who come forward.


“The police and Tafep ensure all cases reported are handled sensitively and with strict confidentiality. The Employment Act and Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices protect anyone who reports workplace harassment incidents from wrongful dismissal or discriminatory treatment at work,” said the tripartite partners.


They urged sexual harassment victims and witnesses to contact Tafep’s Workplace Harassment Resource and Recourse Centre at 68380969 or https://www.tal.sg/tafep/contact-us.


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