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Why is Workplace Sexual Harassment Underreported?

Dec 03,2022

Although workplace sexual harassment is a gender-neutral crime and can happen to anyone, women all across the world have been the predators of discrimination. Earlier, females were considered adept only for domestic chores and breeding. However, later as they raised their voice against injustice, they got opportunities to compete with males in the professional world. Nevertheless, soon they had to face discrimination and assaults in their profession as well.

The concept of workplace sexual harassment is old and has been deep-rooted in the way our society functions. The term was first coined in the year 1975 by Carnoll Broadsky in his book The Harassed Worker. Despite the numerous efforts to combat sexual harassment, the problem continues to prevail. In an anonymous study, it was found that no fewer than 1 in 28 U.S. workers report having been victimized by workplace sexual harassment annually. Despite that, only 1 in 11,000 workers report the crime to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

So, why is there a massive gap existing? In this article, we will take a look at possible reasons why sexual harassment in the workplace is often an underreported crime. However, before that let's delve in to understand what actually is workplace sexual harassment.

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines workplace sexual harassment as illegal sex discrimination. Illegal workplace sexual harassment is not only restricted to discrimination from a supervisor to an employee. On the contrary, it can occur between people of the same and different genders, coworkers, an employee and a customer, a supervisor and an employee.

There are two types of workplace sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo harassment - It is a type of workplace sexual harassment wherein the supervisor coerces sexual favors from the employee in return for continued employment, a promotion, favorable hours or shifts, positive feedback, etc. For example, when a boss tells his/her employee "You can get the promotion you have been wanting by sleeping with me."
  • Hostile Work Environment - This type of harassment at work happens when an employee has to go through a sexually hostile environment that is so severe that it affects their work and creates abusive working conditions. For example, a colleague continuously makes sexual jokes or shares sexual images.

Limitation of the Act against Workplace Sexual Harassment

Although Title VII protects people against illegal sexual workplace sexual harassment, there is a limitation to the act, which is essential for everyone to know in case they are facing sexual misconduct at work. The act protects only the employees whose employers have 15 or more employees working for them. Employees who work with an employer with less than 15 employees are not protected by the act. 

Why Sexual Harassment at Work is Underreported?

Apart from the prevalent limitation in the act, one of the major reasons for the underreporting of the crime is the retaliatory behavior of the firms and supervisors through actions like the firing of the employee, wage cuts, assigning them undesirable tasks, etc. Research finds that retaliation from employers leads to a substantial drop in the level of the reporting of crime. On the contrary, lack of awareness is additionally a major concern that results in fewer cases being reported. Many times, the victim who is experiencing workplace sexual harassment does not even know that the misconduct they are going through accounts for harassment that is illegal and affects their work drastically. 

Sexual harassment persisting in the work environment can raise the risks of an employee getting unemployed when the crime is reported. On the other hand, unemployment is also a reason that leads to underreporting of the workplace sexual harassment. The rising unemployment and dire need to meet personal and family financial needs can also force the victims of sexual harassment to stay in unfair working conditions without reporting the crime. Moreover, it also increases the risk for others to come across sexual harassment.

What Needs to be Done?

In order to prevent workplace harassment, governments need to bring about changes in the existing policies. There exists a need for the law to protect all types of workers from discrimination and harassment at work regardless of the business size and the type of work.

Furthermore, employers should also make advancements in their workplace that favor all and make employees less vulnerable to experiencing any sort of harassment at work. For example, clear policies should be made that define harassment and the actions that could be taken when someone experiences it. Conducting training for employees is also beneficial to teach healthy working behavior that diminishes the chances of workplace harassment.

Apart from that, employers should also try eliminating tipped working conditions for employees such as restaurant workers as tips expose them to experiencing higher risks of coming across sexual harassment from their customers.