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Sexual Harassment at Work - Why is it So Hard to Prove?

What’s clear, is that proving sexual harassment requires the accuser to have a great deal of evidence to support their case.

by Sophie Jarvis I February 23, 2022

A survey conducted in 2018 by Stop Street Harassment found that of the 996 women surveyed an alarming 38% of women have been sexually harassed in the workplace. Such unwelcome behavior can have incredibly damaging ramifications for the victim by causing emotional stress, anxiety, and depression. However, when it comes to reporting such incidences, Urbanic & Associates found that over 70% of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never report it. Among the reasons why it often goes unreported is that proving sexual harassment can be very difficult.

Why is this the case? For the harassment to be taken seriously, the victim must prove that the conduct was unwanted. One reason that makes proving sexual harassment difficult is that the perpetrator can claim that any interactions of a sexual nature were consensual. In a society where victim-blaming remains a tenacious issue, the perpetrator may try to assert evidence to support this, such as suggesting the victim dressed provocatively, or that their actions led them to believe they wanted to engage in sexual interactions.

Another issue related to proving sexual harassment is where there's a lack of evidence. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of one person’s word against the other. If there’s a power dynamic involved, such as someone in a managerial position being accused by their inferior, then the hierarchical difference may result in the person in the senior role being taken more seriously.

Statistics show that sexual harassment is particularly rife in the hospitality industry. One fair wage found that 71% of female restaurant employees were victims at least once during their employment within the industry. The study showed that why these women were often harassed by customers, they were also sexually harassed and sexualized by supervisors, managers, and restaurant owners. This study showed that tipped workers experience this sort of behavior more frequently, due in part to the performative aspect of their job. As their income relies heavily on tips, customers can feel the workers should “smile and be pretty” for them. As this general behavior is ingrained into the psyche regarding the industry, it becomes all the more difficult to prove incidences of sexual harassment, as it’s seen as “just part of the job”.

What’s clear, is that proving sexual harassment requires the accuser to have a great deal of evidence to support their case. One way of doing this is trying to find an ally. For those who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, there’s a high likelihood that someone witnessed at least one incident of inappropriate behavior. If it feels possible, it is worth approaching this person to see if they’ll offer their support if the case is taken to HR.

Tracking any incidences of unwelcome behavior, including dates, times, and details of what happened, is vital for gathering a solid collection of evidence that can be presented to a manager, HR, or law enforcement. Our app, Trael, is a record keeping tool that allows you to create your own private paper trail where you can document uncomfortable situations. This information can then be turned into a report, that can be shared as evidence to help you fight back.

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