Workplace Sexual Harassment



Within the last decade, more women have entered the work force. As their numbers surge, their vulnerability to harassment has also increased. Often reported in the media are criminal acts of rape, assault and molestation, while the ‘less severe’ forms of harassment like verbal abuse, repeated lewd emails or smses, physical touching, or unwelcome comments on behaviour or dress are given free reign because they do not qualify as criminal acts.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), sexual harassment is a clear form of gender discrimination based on sex, a manifestation of unequal power relations between men and women. In addition, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has also noted the seriousness of this issue, and urged for “measures to protect women from sexual harassment and other forms of violence or coercion in the workplace.”

The issue of workplace sexual harassment in Singapore remains for the most part a ‘hidden’ problem. In 2008, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) conducted a survey to address this issue.

Snapshot of Statistics

Their study on 500 respondents and 92 companies reported these findings:

  1. Sexual Harassment is common in the Workplace
    • 54% (272) had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment.
    • 27% of the 272 respondents experienced harassment by their colleague, while 17% were harassed by their superior.
    • 79% of the victims are women; 21% were men.
    • 12% had received threats of termination if they did no comply with the requests of the sexual harassers.
  2. Sexual Harassment occurs across the board.
    • Both women and men are more likely to have been harassed by the opposite sex, although some have also experienced harassment from the same sex. In AWARE’s survey, 79% of the respondents who reported having experienced workplace sexual harassment were female; 21% were male.
    • Sexual harassment occurs across the board. Most of the harassment is experienced at executive levels, followed by administrative staff. While reports of victimization are fewer, there are incidents of sexual harassment at management and senior management positions.
  3. Awareness of mechanisms for redress within the Workplace
    • 66.6% (333) were not aware of any policies.
    • 50.4% indicated that they were aware of a department or resource person they could approach on sexual harassment.
  4. Industries with high levels of sexual harassment incidents(in no particular order)
    • Business, trade, banking and finance
    • Sales and marketing
    • Hospitality
    • Civil Service
    • Education, lecturing and teaching

A copy of the full report of the survey is available at AWARE.