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An investigation into sexual harassment towards women in the tourism and hospitality sectors

An investigation into sexual harassment towards women in the tourism and hospitality sectors
Author: Emma Kimpton
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Abstract: Sexual harassment is widely researched but narrowly understood. People become victims of sexual harassment due to lack of the understanding of their rights, tolerance to sexual harassment and the perpetrator not understanding where the barrier lies between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. This paper will explore the tolerance towards sexual harassment, what is being done and what still needs to be done.

Key words: Sexual harassment, Tolerance, Hospitality, Tourism

Sexual harassment can be defined as unwanted sexual behaviour that the recipient takes to be offensive, including unwanted verbal and physical sexual behaviour (Nielson & Einarsen, 2012). Section 28A of the 1984 Sexual Discrimination Act explains that someone is guilty of sexually harassing another if the perpetrator makes unwelcome advances, or an unwanted request for sexual favours or engages in any other conduct of a sexual nature (Van Der Winden, 2014). Sexual harassment negatively effects the victim physically and emotionally (Fitzgerald et al., 1997; Raspenda et al., 2009) as well as negatively impacting their job performance, satisfaction and career opportunities (Lapierre et al., 2005; Shannon et al., 2007). Currently, definitions of sexual harassment vary so much that a comprehensive definition is yet to be determined (Ineson et al., 2013; Diehl et al., 2014).

Sexual harassment is most common within the hospitality sector than any other, this may be down to the general characteristics of service work as well as low worker status (Poulstan, 2008). The characteristics of service work provide prime opportunity for sexual harassment to occur (Folgerø & Fjeldstad, 1995). Poulstan (2008) suggests that hospitality workers are most vulnerable to sexual harassment because they are quite commonly women with low education and have an inability to defend themselves. Quite often, the boundary lines between accepted and unaccepted sexually orientated behaviour are difficult to establish due to the relaxed, informal atmosphere and the close customer-employee contact (Agnisa et al., 2002).

It is important to increase the understanding of this issue, because as of yet there is no definitive explanation of the term sexual harassment (Ineson et al, 2013; Diehl at al., 2014). Previous research has shown that there is a correlation between a good understanding of sexual harassment and less rape-supportive attitudes and empathy with victims (Diehl et a., 2014).

From the research that was undertaken in this study, the respondent showed how she accepted flirting as part of her job as a barmaid. The respondent also explained that her manager and landlady were very tolerant and lenient toward sexual harassment, even when the perpetrator was the landlord. Research has shown that the consequences of sexual harassment are commonly misperceived, many people are lenient towards perpetrators (Herzog, 2007). The respondent received no training on how to deal with unwanted sexual behaviour or comments.

The respondent explained how in her workplace she definitely saw a pattern of women being victims and men usually the perpetrators. This finding compares favourably with the opinion of Diehl et al. (2014) as they explain that even though both men and women can be either perpetrators or victims of sexual harassment, most commonly men are perpetrators and women victims. She explains how she feels that the boundaries of what is appropriate in workplaces such as pubs and restaurants are lower, this finding agrees with the opinion of Agnisa et al. (2002) that boundaries on this type of behaviour are difficult to establish due to the close interaction between customers and employees. In terms of defending herself, the respondent felt she could only defend herself a little bit when it was people she knows or regular customers.

The respondent suffers from the negative effects from sexual harassment, she feels nervous to go to work and she would never want to work in the hospitality industry again. Her strong feelings against sexual harassment reflect positively from the opinion of Fitzgerald et al. (1997) and Raspenda et al. (2009) that sexual harassment negatively reflects a person emotionally. The respondent not wanting to work in the hospitality industry again reflects the unwillingness to progress in a career as found by Lapierre et al. (2005) and Shannon et al. (2007). The respondent also made it clear that she did not know of any policies in place at work to protect her, she did not know of her rights and she struggled to give a full definition.

In conclusion, it is clear to see there is a high tolerance to sexual harassment within these sectors, as they are both so closely linked in terms of the characteristics of the work and the low worker status. This paper suggests that the government need to launch a campaign to raise awareness of how common sexual harassment is and show the negative consequences it can bring to the victim. Further research into this topic could include men as victims of sexual harassment, as this may bring more information to the issue and help change this continuous problem within hospitality and tourism workplaces.

Diehl, C., Glaser, T. & Bohner, G. (2014) Face the consequences: Learning about victims suffering reduces sexual harassment myth acceptance and mens likelihood to sexually harass. Aggressive Behaviour, 40(6), pp. 489-503.
Herzog, S. (2007) Public perceptions of sexual harassment: An empiracle analysis in Israel from consensus and feminist theoretical perspective. Sex Roles, 57(7), pp. 579-592.
Poulston, J. (2008) Metamorphosis in hospitality: A tradition of sexual harassment. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 27, pp. 232-240.