Sexual harassment of LGBT people in the workplace
A study into sexual harassment of LGBT people in the workplace.
- 68% LGBT people surveyed reported being sexually harassed at work, yet two thirds didn’t report it to their employer.
- One in four of those who didn’t report were prevented from raising the issue with their employer by their fear of being ‘outed’ at work.
- The research found unacceptably high levels of sexual harassment across all different types of harassing behaviours for both LGBT men and women.
- LGBT women responding to the survey experienced higher levels of sexual harassment and sexual assault in many areas. There were also some areas where men and women reported similar levels of sexual harassment.
- The difference in experience was particularly apparent in reported instances of unwanted touching, sexual assault and rape at work.
LGBT women are:
- more than twice as likely to report unwanted touching (35% of women compared to 16% of men)
- almost twice as likely to report experiencing sexual assault (21% of women compared to 12% of men)
- almost twice as likely to experience serious sexual assault or rape (12% compared to 7% of men)
Many of the incidents of sexual harassment that we were told about appeared to be linked to the sexualisation of LGBT identities and the misconception that these identities solely focus on sexual activity. People influenced by these stereotypes see being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans as an invitation to make sexualised comments or ask inappropriate questions about an LGBT person’s sex life, particularly if an individual is ‘out’.
A number of those responding to our survey described a range of longer-term impacts caused by their experience of sexual harassment at work:
- 16% reported a negative effect on their mental health and 16% left their job as a result of being sexually harassed.
- Two thirds of respondents who had been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted at work had not reported the most recent incident to their employer.
- More than half (57%) of those that hadn’t reported said that this was because they thought there would be a negative impact on their relationships at work if they did. Over four in ten (44%) said they didn’t report because they feared a negative impact on their career.
- Around one in five bisexual men and women who responded to our survey experienced sexual assault at work (20% and 22% respectively) and one in ten reported being seriously sexually assaulted or raped at work (11% and 10% respectively).
- Trans women were even more likely than other women to experience sexual assault and rape at work, with around one third of trans women (32%) who responded to our survey reporting being sexually assaulted and over one in five (22%) experiencing serious sexual assault or rape.
Our findings also showed that LGBT people’s experience of sexual harassment and assault at work varied significantly depending on the respondent’s ethnicity.
- More than half of lesbian, bisexual and trans BME women (54%) who responded to our survey reported unwanted touching compared to around one third of white women (31%).
- BME women were more than twice as likely to report being sexually assaulted at work (45% BME, 18% white) and almost three times more likely to experience serious sexual assault or rape (27% BME, 9% white).
- Four in ten gay, bisexual and trans BME men who responded to our survey reported unwelcome verbal sexual advances compared to just over two in ten (23%) GBT white men.
- 27% of gay, bisexual and trans BME men reported being exposed to displays of pornographic photographs or drawings in the workplace compared to 15% of GBT white men.
- One in five (20%) respondents who had experienced sexual harassment told us their most recent harasser was a third party, such as a customer, client or patient, supplier or contractor.
Disabled people reported significantly higher levels of sexual harassment than non-disabled people. The research found that disabled men reported significantly higher levels of sexual harassment than non-disabled men and non-disabled women across all aspects of sexual harassment.
Disabled women reported significantly higher levels of sexual harassment than both disabled men and non-disabled men and women across most areas.
However, there were three types of harassment where disabled men experienced higher levels than disabled women. Those were:
- hearing colleagues make comments of a sexual nature about a straight colleague (56% to 54% of disabled women)
- hearing colleagues make comments of a sexual nature about a lesbian/gay woman, gay man, bisexual or trans colleague (60% compared to 55% of disabled women)
- displays of pornographic photographs or drawings in the workplace (32% compared to 29% of disabled women)
Disabled women were:
- around twice as likely to report unwanted touching (50% disabled women, 26% non-disabled women)
- more than twice as likely to report sexual assault (38% vs 14%)
- six times more likely to experience serious sexual assault or rape (24% vs 4%)
These higher rates of sexual harassment and assault in our research reflect previous studies which showed that disabled women and girls experience gender-based violence at disproportionately higher rates and in unique forms owing to discrimination and stigma based on both gender and disability.
Disabled men’s reported levels of sexual harassment and assault were lower than those of disabled women but significantly higher than non-disabled men.
Disabled men were almost:
- three times more likely to report unwanted touching when compared to non-disabled men (32% compared to 11%)
- five times more likely to report unwanted sexual assault than non-disabled men (28% compared to 6%)
- seven times more likely to report serious sexual assault and rape that non-disabled men (20% compared to 3%)
Trades Union Congress, 2019. Sexual harassment of LGBT people in the workplace. London: TUC [pdf] [Accessed on 26/07/2019]
Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/LGBT_Sexual_Harassment_Report_0.pdf