Why Do LGBT People Suffer Such High Rates of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

A new survey finds that sexual harassment against LGBT people in the UK workplace is disturbingly high.

The survey, conducted by leading employment rights organization the Trades Union Congress (TUC), looked at the experiences of 1,151 LGBT people living and working in the UK. The TUC wanted to know, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, what life is like for LGBT people in the workplace and how prevalent is sexually harassing behavior against this portion of the workforce.

The research finds that workplace sexual harassment against LGBT people is shockingly high. Around seven in 10, or 68 percent, of LGBT people say they have been sexually harassed while at work. Despite this, only one third of respondents informed their employer about this behavior, and the reasons were alarming. One in four chose not to report because they feared that they would have to disclose their identity and effectively be “outed” at work.

The report found that LGBT men and women were vulnerable to sexual harassment, and in some circumstances were equally vulnerable. However, and has become an all too familiar pattern, women were often more likely to encounter certain kinds harassment.

Women were more likely to face unwanted touching at work (35 percent versus 16 percent). They were almost double the risk of facing sexual assault (21 percent versus 12 percent) and almost twice as likely to face “serious sexual assault” or rape (12 percent versus seven percent).

All sexual harassment is serious, however when data gathering it can be useful to separate out such treatment into different categories. It’s particularly useful if we are talking about which equivalent legal categories might be invoked to prosecute such harassment.

It is critical to acknowledge that women are facing the brunt of this. At the same time, we need to underscore that GBT men are also vulnerable and can be made even more so by the fact that sexual harassment against men isn’t often acknowledged as a real problem. There aren’t always the frameworks in place for GBT men to get the help they need. It may also be that men as a demographic may under-report sexual harassment.

“This research reveals a hidden epidemic. In 2019 LGBT people should be safe and supported at work, but instead they’re experiencing shockingly high levels of sexual harassment and assault,” the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, told the Guardian. “Workplace culture needs to change. No one should think that a colleague being LGBT is an invitation for sexualised comments or inappropriate questions, let alone serious acts of assault.”

Why is Anti-LGBT Workplace Sexual Harassment so High?

The TUC report offers us a number of insights into why it is that LGBT people appear to be so vulnerable to workplace harassment.

The TUC specifically mentions that, despite a lot of gains in LGBT rights, certain stereotypes persist. One such stereotype or misunderstanding about LGBT identity is that being LGBT is solely focused on sexual behavior. People who believe this idea may feel that a person either being openly LGBT or at least not guarded about their private life is inviting sexualized questions. Such questions may start off from a place of ignorance and not malice, but they lay the groundwork for more overt sexualization of colleagues that can lead to sexual harassment.

There are other factors, too. The LGBT community is a broad demographic, spanning the racial divide. We know that people of color, and in particular women of color, are at higher risk of sexual and physical assault, and this data reveals the same trend. As is often the case, when minority identities intersect, the chances of negative impacts magnify.

There is another factor here too: LGBT people may not be “out” at work.

If they are not open about their sexuality or gender identity—and it is worth saying that, broadly speaking, no employee owes a company this information—this can allow sexual harassment to continue, because the victim may feel they are unable to discuss it without also disclosing their LGBT identity. Such fears add to the difficulty of reporting sexual assault and that, whatever our personal identity, any such report may impact our future chances of advancing at our job.

The data bore out these concerns. Around 44 percent of respondents said they didn’t want to report sexual harassment they had faced, because they feared the negative impact on their careers, while a quarter said they would not report sexual harassment, because it might have disclosed their LGBT identity.

This creates a kind of perfect storm in which sexual harassment can crop up, but also where it can continue unchallenged, with the victims unable to feel they can get help.

How Do We Fight Sexual Harassment Against LGBT People?

Among its recommendations, the TUC calls on the UK government to change the law to hold employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment. The group also wants what it describes as a “statutory code of practice” that will define sexual harassment and give employers steps they must take to safeguard employees.

No person should ever face going into a workplace that subjects them to harassment, and all workplaces must create environments free of such harms with strict, victim-centered strategies in place to help when things do go wrong.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

28 comments

Graham P
Graham P20 days ago

Why Do LGBT People Suffer Such High Rates of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?:- IGNORANCE!!!

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Winn A
Winn Adams26 days ago

:-(

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Winn A
Winn Adams26 days ago

It's just so wrong

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Amparo Fabiana Chepote

Division and hate from self righteous. It has to stop this bullying. Homophobia.

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Doris F
Doris F28 days ago

@C2...what happens with C2 ?????
All actions are break down ! hmmmpfff :-(

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill29 days ago

thanks

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pam w
pam wabout a month ago

We all know why this is happening--religious fundamentalists use the ignorance from their dogma to impose their narrow view on everyone else. And, although their Jesus never said anything about these issues, his ''followers'' love to put THEIR interpretation on things and bully those whose sexual orientations are ''different."

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Alea C
Alea Cabout a month ago

There is too much hatred in the world towards LGBT people when the fact is, they're just people like everyone else. Everyone should mind their own business!!!

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Loredana V
Loredana Vabout a month ago

This makes me sad and angry, there is no reason to be so nasty!

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Sabrina Degasperi
Sabrina Degasperiabout a month ago

Exactly Christine V.

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