#MeToo – Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


#MeToo – Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


Back in the 1980’s a new restaurant chain opened its doors across the UK; styled on a stereotypical American Diner, its name possibly was one of the biggest branding faux pas of its time… ‘Fatty Arbuckles’ was the restaurant chain in question; many people may not be familiar with the chain, possibly because they avoid those generic style restaurants and possibly because the chain rebranded in 2000, shortening its name to just ‘Arbuckles’.

What is the relevance of this you may be asking?

Well; Roscoe Conkling ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was not just a randomly selected name, he was, in fact, a silent film actor, comedian, director and screenwriter in America, active at the turn of the 20th Century – the birth of the movie industry, when silent movies reigned supreme. His legacy was overshadowed by a sex scandal in the early 1920’s; when an aspiring actress was found in his bed following a party, in considerable pain and died four days later from peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Her companion at the party told Police that Arbuckle had raped her and this has caused the injuries which led to her death. Three trials followed for alleged rape and manslaughter; the first two resulting in hung juries, and the third resulting in Arbuckle’s acquittal. However, his career never recovered from the scandal, and his name was forever tinged with negative undertones.

And of course, who can forget that, although now more generically applied, the concept of the ‘casting couch’ has its roots firmly set within the bright lights of Hollywood. Where since the dawn of the movie industry, it has been the case that those with the ‘power’ in the industry have made promises and offers to aspiring ‘starlets’ in return for sexual favours. The idea of the ‘casting couch’ though has always probably sat in the category of being the ‘worst kept secret’; everyone probably knew it happened, but no-one spoke of it for fear of reprisals.

Pandora’s box

Fast-forward 95-years though and all of a sudden ‘Pandora’s Box’ has been opened and numerous female (and one or two male) stars have spoken out about how they have been sexually harassed, abused and raped by those with the power within the industry. Not a week goes by without this dominating the news headlines and at the forefront of these stories are allegations made against movie ‘mogul’ Harvey Weinstein.
Although Weinstein has faced a trial by [social] media, which has resulted in his dismissal from his [own] Company; he has not yet been officially charged with any actual offence, and it is entirely possible that despite the volume of allegations, he will never face criminal charges, as most of the allegations against him have arisen in circumstances when only he and his accuser has been present in the room.

While actually only 5,437 miles from London, there is an aura that surrounds ‘La La Land’, and a perception of those who make their careers there, which for most people means that it might just as well be a million miles away from reality. But sadly, that reality is very real and is happening everywhere, including in our own ‘back garden’.

Who has been a victim?

A survey conducted for the BBC found that of those who were questioned, half of British women and a fifth of men reported that they had faced sexual harassment at their place of work or study. Of those who had experienced sexual harassment, 63% of women and 79% of men said that they had not reported the issue to anyone and had kept it very much to themselves.

In a separate survey conducted for the Daily Telegraph, around the same time; they reported that an average of 14% of those questioned had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; ranging from 7% of male employees up to 20% of female employees. They also found that there was a significant age divide; with 19% of those aged 18 – 34 reporting that they had experienced sexual harassment compared with only 7% of those aged over 55.

The sample populations of these surveys will impact considerably on these findings, and it has to be remembered that the concept of ‘sexual harassment’ is one which is quite subjective and is open to an individuals’ own interpretation. What one person might consider to be sexual harassment, may be considered by another to be nothing more than ‘office banter’.

That said; where there is any act of physical and/or intimate contact which is non-consensual, that is very definitely not open to interpretation!

The legal definition of harassment is:
‘Unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’.

Essentially it is any behaviour which is unwanted, unwelcome and/or uninvited and can be both verbal or written and includes the displaying of materials in the office which just one person might find offensive and applies equally to male and female employees – so just as a calendar depicting half-naked females might be offensive, so might one showing half-naked firemen.

For those who believe that they are the victim of sexual harassment, there are a few simple steps that they can follow:

  • If you feel comfortable doing so, speak to the person directly and tell them that their behaviour is not acceptable and is making you feel uncomfortable.
  • Report the matter to your manager; it is recommended that you do this in writing and keep a copy.
  • Keep a diary of the incidents; recording what happened, where it happened and who else might have been present and witnessed it
  • Seek advice from your HR Department or supplier and/or, if you are a member of a Trades Union, seek guidance from them.
  • Make a formal complaint through your Company’s ‘Grievance Policy’ or if applicable, the ‘Dignity at Work Policy’ or ‘Bullying & Harassment Policy’.

If you have done all of this and the behaviour continues, then you could consider making a claim to a Tribunal.

The Equality and Human Rights Commision are clamping down

Sexual harassment is something that has been around for many, many years and sadly is unlikely to disappear overnight. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have begun to clamp down on sexual harassment. They have written to the Chairs of FTSE 100 Companies and other leading employers, demanding to know what measures are being put in place to prevent harassment in their workplaces and have warned those failing to deal with such behaviours that legal action will be taken.

Social media campaigns (#MeToo) are also being used to give those affected by sexual harassment the courage and the platform to speak up about their experiences and to show support to others.

Who knows; perhaps in the year of the 100th anniversary of some women being given the right to vote in the UK, and 138 years after the birth of the movie industry, we might finally begin to see the ‘casting couch’ concept being consigned to the annals of history where it belongs…






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