Sexual harassment in the workplace is a pervasive social problem that cuts across genders, ages and social boundaries.
Because incidents of sexual harassment often “fly under the radar” and aren’t reported, it’s tough to get a clear picture of exactly how bad the issue is across different industries. However, a recent study of data available from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other sources indicates that there are a few specific industries where workers are most at risk.
Foodservice and retail workers top the list
According to the EECO, 25% of all workers who file sexual harassment allegations are in the hospitality and food service industry or are retail work workers.
Food service workers seem to be uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment. So much so that 90% of female restaurant workers and 70% of the males say that they have personally experienced the problem. Employees who rely on tips are twice as likely to report sexual harassment as workers with guaranteed wages. That indicates that customers often feel like they have a right to make unwanted advances or take liberties with their servers in exchange for their tips.
Retail workers may be subject to higher levels of harassment simply because they often have low-paying jobs that they can’t afford to lose – and their harassers know it. The fact that many retail jobs are customer-facing also means that those workers are constantly exposed to people who simply may enjoy taking advantage of the power imbalance.
Healthcare workers are next
Nursing is a tough job, and the sexual harassment that nurses experience doesn’t make it any easier. Roughly 62% of female nurses and 51% of male nurses say that they’ve experienced on-the-job harassment from medical or nursing colleagues, patients or the friends and family members of patients. Although 11.48% of the sexual harassment allegations reported by the EEOC involve medical workers, only 27% of the nurses who have experienced problems say that they’ve ever reported an incident to an employer.
Academia is no safe haven from harassment
The hierarchical nature of academia (and the fact that there are many young people around who may not know how to protect themselves from predators) creates inherent power imbalances that embolden some harassers.
According to the study, fully 58% of those in academic workplaces – including students, staff and faculty – experience some form of sexual harassment. Many of them never report it because they are afraid of retaliation, don’t want negative attention for themselves or don’t even recognize exactly how serious the problem really is.
Even the military is not immune
Again, whenever you have a strict power hierarchy, it sets the stage for sexual harassment. In addition, there’s a distinct gender imbalance – which may be why 41% of military women report being sexually assaulted or harassed by only 4% of military males say the same.
Whatever the situation, workplace sexual harassment is never acceptable, and if you are facing this kind of mistreatment, seeking legal guidance can help you decide which steps to take next.