Study finds men suffer workplace sexual harassment as well

Posted on : 2016-03-18 16:54 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Both women and men report dealing with intrusive questions, unwanted touching and denigrating comments
An image from anti-sexual harassment education. (Hankyoreh file photo)
An image from anti-sexual harassment education. (Hankyoreh file photo)

“My wife is a foreigner, and my boss keeping asking blunt questions about my sexual relationship with her. I refused to answer them, but then he started calling her the ‘white horse’ and calling me ‘the man who rode the white horse.’ He’s my boss, so I just laughed it off, but I felt humiliated.”

This account of workplace sexual harassment was shared by a male manufacturing worker in a recent study by Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (KRIVET) associate research fellow Seo Yoo-jeong.

Titled “An Analysis of Workplace Sexual Harassment and Violence,” the study was based on responses by 6,027 workers in manufacturing and five other job categories, with 19.2% responding that they had experiences some form of sexual harassment in the past six months.

More males reported experiences than females by a 22% to 15.9% margin, reflecting a workplace power structure that applies to both sexes alike. The aggressors shared one commonality: superior status in terms of position, age, or social standing. Indeed, 61.5% of workplace sexual harassment and abuse cases reported in the study involved a boss or senior employee, followed 14.7% involving an employee of the same status, 11.7% involving an executive, and 11% involving a customer or patient. In just 1.1% of cases, a lower-ranking employee was identified as being responsible.

While only 14.6% of regular workers reported experiences with workplace sexual harassment, the rate for irregular workers was 21.6%.

Adopting a qualitative approach in which respondents explain in detail about their experiences, the study showed differences along gender lines. In many cases, female workers were found to have been forced to entertain clients and visitors or had their working abilities denigrated for gender reasons. One respondent reported, “My boss told me to pour drinks because he said it ‘tastes better when a woman pours them.’” Another said, “I often hear them say, ‘Why are you working? You should get married and raise kids at home.’”

In contrast, many male workers reported being compelled to occupy fixed gender roles.

“You often hear people say, ’You‘re a man - why are you being so tight-fisted?’” said one.

“They like to go to bars where women come out to entertain you, and they force you to go along, talking about how ‘this is part of social life,’” said another.

Gender differences also emerged in forms of sexual harassment reported by both men and women, including verbal harassment and unwanted physical contact. Female workers reported many cases of being sexually objectified with comments such as “You look great - I want to eat you up,” “I just had some snake soup [considered an aphrodisiac]; can I sit next to you?” and “Why don‘t you stay over at my place?” Male workers more commonly reported hearing prying questions about their private lives or being embarrassed by obscene talk.

“What we found was more exploitative forms of sexual harassment such as objectification among women, and many cases of insensitive remarks and behavior causing sexually related discomfort among men,” explained Seo.

Seo went on to say the situation calls for “a policy approach that takes into account qualitative differences in workplace sexual harassment along gender lines.”

“In previous studies, male workers either didn’t perceive themselves as being victims of workplace sexual harassment or refused to answer,” she noted, adding that the phenomenon “seems to be the result of either the inadequacy of the concept of ‘sexual violence’ itself or an attempt to avoid being perceived as ‘weak’ in terms of social status.”

To reduce the risk of respondents declining to answer about their experiences with sexual harassment, the study avoided direct references to “harassment” or “sexual violence.” Instead, respondents heard an explanation on a specific form of harassment and asked if they had experienced any similar.

For the study, a total of 6,027 workers in six professional categories, including public health/social welfare, finance/insurance, public administration/government, services, construction, and manufacturing. Respondents included 3,159 men and 2,835 women, with 33 declining to answer.

The highest rate of victimization was found in the service industry at 29.1%, followed by public health/social welfare (18.9%) and finance/insurance (16%). Men reported particularly high rates in services and finance/insurance at 35% and 17.2%, respectively, compared to 17.1% and 13.6% for women.

“In workplace sexual violence, the influence of the workplace power structure is a much stronger element than the gender-based power structure,” said Kim Bo-hwa, a supervising researcher at the Korea Sexual Violence Counseling Center’s Ullim Institute.

“But there isn’t much of a difference between women and men in terms of the level or types of abuse,” Kim added.

By Noh Hyun-woong, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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