Two in five Singapore workers have been sexually harassed at the workplace in last five years, says Aware-Ipsos survey

Findings affirmed that workplace sexual harassment is a ‘pervasive and urgent problem’, and that the authorities cannot rely on official cases as their only measure of prevalence due to the frequent under-reporting. — Comstock/Canva pic via TODAY
Findings affirmed that workplace sexual harassment is a ‘pervasive and urgent problem’, and that the authorities cannot rely on official cases as their only measure of prevalence due to the frequent under-reporting. — Comstock/Canva pic via TODAY

SINGAPORE, Jan 14 — Two in five workers in Singapore were sexually harassed at the workplace in the past five years, but seven in 10 of them chose not to report their experiences, a survey has found.

Among those who reported their cases, one in five of the victims had to reconcile with the fact that their harasser faced no consequences despite there being evidence of the harassment. Only two in five victims who reported their cases had their harasser reassigned or dismissed.

These findings came out of a survey by market research company Ipsos and gender-equality organisation Aware, which they said is the first ever nationally-representative survey on workplace sexual harassment in Singapore.

Forty-eight per cent of the respondents were male.

Why it matters

The survey, which was conducted in November last year, involved 1,000 Singapore citizens and permanent residents who had been engaged in paid work in the recent five years.

In a press release presenting the findings today, Aware and Ipsos said that most of the victims did not report their experiences as they either believed that their encounter was not severe enough, did not think that there was enough evidence to put forward their case, or simply wished to forget about the incident.

Aware and Ipsos also pointed out a major gap in the understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment.

They noted that only one in five respondents stated that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace, yet two in five said they had experienced at least one harassment situation as described in the survey.

Harassment situations

The harassment situations that were put to respondents included:

● Been touched physically in a way that was unwelcome, alarming or distressing — 13 per cent said they had experienced it

● Received unwanted attempts to establish a romantic, and/or sexual relationship despite your efforts to discourage it — 11 per cent said they had experienced it

● Been asked, indirectly or directly, to flirt, dress provocatively or use sexual gestures to impress a client or a senior staff member that made you feel alarmed, distressed or harassed — 9 per cent said they had experienced it

● Had your career prospects threatened if or when you did not respond favourably to unwelcome sexual favours or advances — 7 per cent said they had experienced it

● Been subjected to promises or hints at enhanced career prospects in return for a sexual favour that caused you alarm, distress, or harassment — 6 per cent said they had experienced it

Other situations included receiving pictures, jokes, texts or gestures of a sexual or sexist nature; alarming or offensive remarks or questions about their experiences, bodies or sexual activities; and crude and distressing remarks, jokes or gestures of a sexual or sexist nature.

Legislation needed: Aware

Shailey Hingorani, Aware’s Head of Research and Advocacy, said the survey findings underscores the importance of identifying sexual harassment with clear illustrations, seeing that generalised definitions may be inadvertently perpetuating misconceptions.

She also said that the findings affirmed that workplace sexual harassment is a “pervasive and urgent problem”, and that the authorities cannot rely on official cases as their only measure of prevalence due to the frequent under-reporting.

Given the findings, Aware is now recommending for the Government to introduce national legislation against workplace harassment, as well as regular anti-harassment training across industries and the universal adoption of grievance handling policies.

Aware said there are a few inadequacies in the current policy approach to tackling workplace sexual harassment. For one, the Protection from Harassment Act does not inform employers of the protective and preventive measures with which they must comply, and neither does it educate employees about their employment rights, it said.

Aware added that the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment does not explicitly place a legal obligation on employers to prevent workplace harassment.

“We recognise that Singapore is, in some regards, ahead of many countries in addressing the scourge of sexual violence. However, when it comes to workplace sexual harassment in particular, we appear to lag behind countries that have specific legislations on the matter,” said Hingorani.

“Giving employers an explicit statutory obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment, and educating workers on the remedies available to them against their employers, would provide a firm foundation from which to eradicate this very insidious and damaging behaviour.”

Melanie Ng, Director of Public Affairs at Ipsos in Singapore, said the research identifies a worrying prevalence of sexual harassment and that it is the case for both men and women. “While more education around the subject needs to happen, employers need to ensure that the reporting channels in their workplaces are accessible, safe and effective for employees to get the help that they need,” she said. — TODAY

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