After #MeToo, Britain investigates sexual harassment of women at work

Nearly one in five people working in Britain’s parliament sexually harassed in the past year: report

Reuters February 13, 2018
The all-party Women and Equalities Committee said it aims to keep women safe in the workplace. PHOTO COURTESY: THE HINDU

From unwanted advances to catcalls and abuse, Britain on Tuesday launched a inquiry into sexual harassment of women at work as countless stories of misconduct spread across the working world.

The all-party Women and Equalities Committee said it aims to keep women safe in the workplace, improve handling of complaints and review legal protections for those accused of abuse, such as non-disclosure agreements, which may be used to silence victims.

“Over the past few months there have been widespread reports of women’s appalling experiences of sexual harassment at work,” said committee chair and Conservative politician Maria Miller.

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“We need to change workplace culture, keep women safe and provide effective legal remedies,” she said in a statement. “We need to understand whether non-disclosure agreements are being abused by legal experts and employers to cover up wrongdoing.”

Last year, parliament became one of several institutions to become embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal after allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo campaign, with people sharing stories of abuse on social media.

Nearly one in five people working in Britain’s parliament were sexually harassed or saw inappropriate behavior in the past year, according to a recent government report which was commissioned after a series of sex scandals at Westminster.

Evidence on workplace harassment can be submitted to the inquiry until March 13, said the committee, which scrutinizes Britain’s gender equality policies and last month launched an investigation into unwanted sexual attention in public places.

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Britain’s industrial dispute body ACAS issued advice at the end of 2017 on behaviors that may be construed as harassment, such as unwanted touching, forwarding emails with sexual content or making sexual comments about a colleague’s appearance.

The charity sector has also been hit by reports of abuse, and two major aid groups - Oxfam and Save the Children - revealed they had sacked a combined 38 staff over sexual misconduct in the past year.

Oxfam was battling on Monday to save its British government funding after a newspaper reported sexual misconduct by its staff in Haiti during humanitarian relief operations there following a 2010 earthquake.