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Risk factors for sexual harassment November 10, 2019

Working in an isolated context. Isolation leaves women vulnerable to abusers who feel emboldened by a lack of witnesses. Frontline reported in 2015 that ABM (described as the largest employer of janitors) had 42 lawsuits brought against it in the previous two decades for allegations of workplace sexual harassment, assault, or rape.

Working in a male-dominated job. Women working in occupations where they are a small minority, particularly in very physical environments or environments focused on traditionally male-oriented tasks are especially vulnerable to harassment and assault. In a survey from the early 1990s, close to six in ten women working in construction report being touched or asked for sex. A recent National Academy of Sciences study documented high levels of harassment of women faculty and staff in academia in science, engineering, and medicine, with women in academic medicine reporting more frequent gender harassment than their female colleagues in science and engineering.

Working in a setting with significant power differentials and “rainmakers.” Many workplaces have significant power disparities between workers. These power imbalances, particularly given women’s lower likelihood of being in the senior positions, are a risk factor for sexual harassment and assault. Workers in more junior positions may be especially concerned with retaliation, the handling of internal complaints, and continued vulnerability within their job. “Rainmakers”—such as a well-known professor, well-recognized or high-earning partner, or grant-winning researcher—may feel they do not need to comply with the rules that govern other employees and may not be disciplined if accused of sexual harassment or assault.

 

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