Workplace Sexual Harassment Shifts Online During Coronavirus Lockdown, Reveals Survey

Most of the employees who were sexually harassed didn't report fearing job loss during Coronavirus pandemic period

The Coronavirus pandemic has seen working from home as the new normal. With that, a sense of security also prevailed among women employees who had to face sexual harassment at the workplace. But according to an online survey, that isn't the case. Sexual predators still targeted subordinates with unwanted advances during video calls or through messaging apps.

The survey, done between April 6-19 by the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) and Never Okay Project, found that about 27 percent of the respondents faced sexual harassment during the work from home. The study, which was conducted in the Southeast Asia region, had 315 people taking part. But even then, the number was staggering. Out of the total number, 68 respondents witnessed sexual harassment while 30 of them were victims of both.

Harassment Not Gender-Specific

Workplace harassment
Workplace harassment (Representational image) Pixabay

However, it was not just limited to women. All gender identities received unwanted advances from superiors or colleagues while working from home. But 94 percent of them didn't report the instances as most of the workplaces had no policy to curb sexual harassment for employees working from home while 38 percent of them felt the human resource department would not initiate any action.

"The risk of sexual harassment while working at home remains high because it is not supported by work safety instruments, in this case, the anti-sexual harassment policy. From our survey, 85 percent of companies do not have a policy of sexual harassment during WFH," Alvin Nicola, Initiator of the Never Okay Project, said.

With job cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic becoming another major concern for employees, victims did not wish to report them fearing job loss. Another interesting factor was that most of the victims were either contractual or worked on a freelance basis.

Digital Communication New Bane

After WhatsApp, its rivals Telegram, Signal reported to be vulnerable to cyber attacks
Instant messaging apps are being used to harass women Reuters/Dado Ruvic

According to the survey, predators used mobile applications as tools. Such apps including video conferencing ones allowed them to erase the trace of any such advances made. Instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Line, Telegram and others were the most popular platforms at about 40 percent, followed by social media platforms (19 percent) and video-conferencing apps (16 percent).

Through such apps, superiors or colleagues made jokes of sexual nature and used multimedia content like photos and videos and audio messages besides stickers and text messages.

Children Targeted too

It is not just workplace harassment, though. During the lockdown phase, children were targeted with sexual advances and harassment as well. During a sting operation by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), an internet safety campaigner and investigator posed as a 14-year-old girl. She encountered multiple such advances and received nude photos.

Chief Constable, Simon Bailey, National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Child Protection expressed his concern adding that such cases including online grooming were on the rise during the lockdown in the U.K. "We are seeing an increase in the number of arrests that we are making every month. The number of cases of grooming is increasing as well. So, of course, I am really concerned," he told the BBC.

Read more