15:07, November 03 60 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-03 15:07:03
We need zero tolerance of sexual harassment now

Abuse of power is easy when exerted against those fearful of being dismissed or sidelined. When there is power against fear, it is no contest – unless perpetrators are exposed and victims are supported. To say that what was acceptable then is not acceptable now is nonsense: it was never acceptable. It takes hundreds of brave women to talk about their experience of sexual harassment before harassment is taken seriously. With a groundswell of support for the victims, we must all learn not to be cowards, but call it out on every occasion (The victims of sexual abuse are the only voices that matter, 1 November).

Most of the harassment was well known but left unchallenged. So many women suffered and lost their jobs as a result. I have acted for many women. Every harasser – past or present – should now feel as vulnerable and worried. They may be outed at any time. There is rarely an isolated incident of harassment. Victims are pushed out with money and gagging clauses, and the man remains – to harass again.

Current employees suffering harassment will, like others before them, fear for their jobs. Employees suffering harassment should be able to report it with anonymity and employers should investigate, speaking to others who may have been harassed. Individuals cannot be expected to stick their head above the parapet. Employers must adopt a zero-tolerance policy and sack the perpetrators, however valuable to the business. It is employers’ legal responsibility to maintain a harassment-free workplace. No one is indispensable. Until there is zero tolerance, nothing will change.

Camilla Palmer

Joint CEO and principal solicitor, Your Employment Settlement Service

Sexual harassment scandals engulfing Hollywood and Westminster – to mention just two institutions buffeted by serious allegations – have exposed a pervasive problem in many places of work. The government can and must take steps to ensure organisations challenge this predatory and abusive culture. Employers should be obliged to report annually the number of complaints lodged by or against their staff. Robust anti-harassment policies should be a must for employers, who need to make sure they’re enforced and create a culture where workers feel comfortable and secure in calling it out.

Equality questionnaires, in which employees can ask their employers questions about other complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination, need to be reintroduced. This has festered in the shadows for far too long. It’s time that the law forced it into the daylight where we, as a society, can better confront it.

Claire Dawson

Head of employment, Slater and Gordon Lawyers

After resigning from the government, Michael Fallon told the BBC “What might have been acceptable 10 or 15 years ago is clearly not acceptable now” (Fallon quits as harassment scandal grows, 2 November).

What rubbish. Women in the UK have been campaigning against sexual harassment at work for over 30 years. In 1982 NCCL (now Liberty) published Sexual Harassment at Work by Melissa Benn and Ann Sedley, which included a definition and case studies. In 1983 the TUC issued guidelines for dealing with this behaviour and many local authorities introduced policies and procedures to tackle it. In 1986 the Scottish court of sessions, in a landmark decision (Porcelli v Strathclyde Regional Council) ruled that sexual harassment was unlawful sex discrimination. And in 2002 the EU issued a directive covering sexual harassment that includes the definition first used in the 1980s.

Annie Sedley

London

While Michael Fallon has at least done the decent thing by falling on his sword, his words sadly show he still doesn’t really understand what he did wrong when he says what might have been acceptable 10 or 15 years ago is not acceptable now. No, Mr Fallon. It was condoned by other men and endured by women who had little choice, but it was never, never, acceptable. If we cannot get men to see that this is not just a slight change in social fashion but an uncovering of long-term and wholly unacceptable abuse, nothing will change.

Jill Wallis

Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

So Michael Fallon felt obliged to resign because he had put his hand on a journalist’s knee and possibly indulged in other “flirtatious behaviour”. Just a week earlier he had been complaining that criticism of Saudi Arabia was unhelpful in hindering the sale of further fighter jets to this despotic state, which is now blacklisted by the UN for slaughtering children. No one suggested he should resign over collusion with indiscriminate bombing of civilians, yet he had to go over Kneegate. We seem to have got our priorities a bit mixed up.

Linda Walker

Glossop, Derbyshire

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