TUC report finds seven in 10 disabled women say they have been sexually harassed at work

  • 21 Jul 2021

A survey found 68 per cent had been harassed, with one in eight leaving their jobs because of this. 

The TUC has called for a new duty on employers to protect staff from sexual harassment at work, after a survey found seven in 10 (68%) disabled women surveyed about sexual harassment said they have been sexually harassed at work.

Younger disabled women aged 18 to 34 were even more likely to have experienced sexual harassment, with almost 8 out of 10 (78%) reporting being harassed at work. 

A ground-breaking TUC study on sexual harassment published in 2016 found that more than half (52%) of women had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. In a further TUC survey in 2019, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people reported being sexually harassed at work 

Sexual harassment at work can take many forms, from suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, demands for sexual favours, and even assault and rape. 

This new TUC survey – which is the first major study into the sexual harassment of disabled women at work in Great Britain, and was carried out by YouGov – found that of those surveyed: 

  • Around two in five (38%) experienced unwelcome sexual advances at work. 
  • More than  one in three (36%) say they have experienced unwanted touching. 
  • Almost one in five (18%) experienced sexual assault, such as unwanted sexual touching. 
  • One in 25 (4%) experienced a serious sexual assault or rape at work. 

Two-thirds (67%) of disabled women who experienced sexual harassment at work told the TUC that they did not report the harassment to their boss the most recent time it happened. Of these, the most common reason was that they did not believe they would be taken seriously (39%). 

Some said they were worried it would have a negative impact on their career or work relationships (30%). Other reasons included not thinking they would be believed (13%) or thinking they would be blamed if they reported the incident (11%). 

Unfortunately, of those who did report the most recent instance of sexual harassment, more than half (53%) said it was not dealt with satisfactorily.

Disabled women told the TUC that sexual harassment had a big effect on their lives. Around 1 in 3 (34%) said their experiences had a negative impact on their mental health. More than 1 in 5 (21%) said it negatively affected their relationships with colleagues. And it caused 1 in 8 (12%) to leave their job or employer entirely.  

Disabled women face significant barriers getting into work and to getting paid the same as non-disabled workers, says the TUC.  Research in October 2020 found that disabled women earned 36 per cent less than non-disabled men. And the analysis found that the unemployment gap for disabled women, when compared to non-disabled men was 32.6 percentage points. 

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary said:

“No one should face sexual harassment at work. But seven in ten disabled women say they have been sexually harassed by a colleague or a customer while at work.  Ministers must change the law to make employers protect workers from sexual harassment specifically, and from all forms of harassment by customers and clients.  Anyone worried about sexual harassment at work should get in touch with their union.” 

The TUC is calling on the government to take a range of actions including: 

  • Introduce a new duty to prevent sexual harassment, putting an enforceable legal requirement on all employers to protect their workers from harassment. 
  • Strengthen legislation to tackle third-party harassment in the upcoming employment bill. 
  • Increase funding for the Equality and Human Rights Commission so it can enforce the new duty to prevent sexual harassment. 
  • Introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work, setting out the steps that employers should take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, and what can be considered in evidence when determining whether the duty has been breached. 

Full report

Polling was carried out by YouGov, on behalf of the TUC, between 17-23 February 2021, with 2,003 disabled respondents who were either employees, furloughed or unemployed. Of those, 1,162 disabled women agreed to answer questions about their experiences of sexual harassment at work. The research was carried out online. 

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