Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Sexual harassment must be addressed

Editor's Viewpoint

The accusations of serial sexual harassment levelled at Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have opened up a long overdue conversation about the experiences many women - and some men - have to put up with from those in positions of authority.

And those experiences are happening on our doorsteps, in the places where we work, where we go for entertainment or anywhere where men and women interact.

A startling survey last week showed that Northern Ireland has the worst record in the UK when it comes to harassment, with 17% of respondents saying they suffered at the hands of superiors.

And today, in this newspaper, two brave women tell of the harassment they endured and how it made a lasting impact on them.

A common theme is that harassment by someone in authority - a boss at work, for example - has a lasting effect on the subject of the advances, leaving them with a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.

Like the actresses who have accused Weinstein, they feel they have no one to turn to, that the harasser holds all the aces and that a much-needed job could be in jeopardy if a complaint is laid. Some have suggested that the Weinstein case - a man so powerful in the entertainment industry that he felt no one would dare expose his behaviour - is a watershed moment in the treatment of women. But is it?

Yes, the issue is making the headlines at the moment and the online campaign empowering women to speak of their experiences is to be welcomed, but cultural attitudes do not change overnight.

There needs to be a clear message through legislation and court decisions that harassment of vulnerable women - or men - will not be tolerated and there needs to be open channels where those victimised can make complaints which will be investigated.

One of the women writing in this newspaper today tells how she complained but nothing was done, and she was not even entitled to claim unfair dismissal because she had not worked at the company long enough. That smacks of her being unfairly treated twice.

Of course, there needs to be a sense of proportion about this issue. There will always be some risque remarks made in the workplace, which may be clumsy attempts at humour, but should not be upgraded to the level of a crime. A joke is not harassment, nor is harassment a joke.

Belfast Telegraph

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