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Half all working women harassed

MORE than half of all working women have been sexually harassed in the workplace according to one of the most detailed pieces of research on the issue, published yesterday. This is far more than previously thought.

The survey of 1,700 employees by the Industrial Society found that only 5 per cent of victims use formal procedures to protest.

Women suffer a range of psychological and job-related problems due to unwanted advances, according to the research.

Around a third of victims reported comments about appearance or suggestive looks, while 10 per cent said they had been touched by a harasser. The most frequent form of unwanted behaviour - suffered by 54 per cent - involved being addressed as 'dear, love, girl etc' and being looked up and down.

Although the frequency of actual or attempted rape was very low, a number of respondents reported harassers touching or rubbing themselves sexually, or making suggestive gestures.

One in 10 victims reported leaving or transferring jobs, or being denied career moves as a result of harassment.

Overwhelmingly, the unwanted behaviour is perpetrated on women by men, only 7 per cent of victims were male.

The report, No Offence?, found that a victim's most common reaction - telling the harasser to stop or threatening to report him - was frequently ineffective. Strong official action by the complainant and the employer was much more successful.

The authors, Janis Stanford and Jo Gardiner, said that harassment at work 'could be one of the most upsetting, humiliating and destructive experiences that can happen to an employee'.

It could interfere with thinking, judgement and concentration. Respondents also cited depression, sleep disturbance, confusion and mood swings. Work performance was undermined through absenteeism, lateness, changes in behaviour and accidents, the report found.

The authors advise victims to collect evidence, of the harassment, tell the perpetrator to stop, find out if anyone else has been troubled by the person concerned, complain to management and ask union or employee representatives for help.

Employers are urged to adopt a 10-point plan to deal with the problem including making it a disciplinary offence, enforcing a firm policy and providing training and counselling.

A BBC Education/Mori poll published on Friday found in interviews with 680 women that one in three had been harassed.

The problem seemed to be less common in the North and Scotland, where 20 per cent of respondents had been the victims, while in Wales, the Midlands and the South, the figure was 34 per cent. - 'No Offence? - Sexual Harassment, How It Happens and How to Beat It' costs pounds 30 and is available from the Industrial Society Sales Unit, Tel: 021-454 6769.

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