Features A man putting his arm around a women.

Published on November 6th, 2012 | by Chloe Cross

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Sex or you’re fired

A man putting his arm around a women.

Many employees feel unable to speak out against sexual harassment [Photographs by Tom Nicholson]

Whether they are fully employed staff, interns, or on work experience, many youngsters are being hit on and taken advantage of in the work place.

Interns often feel pressurised to take on every task assigned to them and do whatever than can to secure their dream job.

Some employers recognise this determination and try to use it to their advantage – and this can go a lot further than asking for their breakfast to be brought to them.

Many, who had just started working, find it hard to say no and succumb to ‘sexual favours’ proposed by their employers, convinced that this is what will separate them from their contenders.

“I thought nothing of it, but then he started emailing me, even during the evening when I wasn’t in the office” – Rebecca Houlihan

Humiliation 

When propositioned with sexual favours in return for job satisfaction, it’s often easy to lose either way; turn your employer down and he may make you pay for the humiliation, but take him up on his offer and consequently he may lose interest.

In reality, it is more often that the employer gets what he wanted and, after that, his interest in the employee fades.

Job offers or promotions never materialise and what follows is a huge amount of tension and even resignation.

Victims of sexual harassment in the work place often look to their company’s human resources department to support them and take action.

What they don’t realise is that the responsibility of the human resources team is to protect the employer, not the employee.

On top of this, if word gets out that an attempt was made to take action against a senior member of staff in any given company and that action fails, the employee could be seen as a troublemaker and may suffer further harassment.

However, not all cases are lost – in 2010 an American woman was awarded $95 million after her boss lifted her shirt and masturbated over her while holding her down.

Obviously this is an extreme case of sexual abuse, but less severe cases are happening every day.

Goldsmiths English student, Rebecca Houlihan, 21, recalled her experience of the ‘workplace culture’ in relation to sex.

She said: “I was interning at a production company while at university. After a few days the other interns commented on how lucky I was that our boss spoke to me, because he hadn’t ever said anything to them.

“I noticed that the chief agent was quite flirty, but I thought that this was normal behaviour because she was very friendly with everyone.” James Smith

“I thought nothing of it, but then he started emailing me, even during the evening when I wasn’t in the office. I didn’t know how to handle the situation.

“I wasn’t going to let him take advantage of me, but I also didn’t want to embarrass him. At the same time I wanted to make a good impression.

“We went out for staff drinks one night and he came on to me and asked for me to stay at his. I pretended to have a boyfriend and after that he backed off.

“However, he ended up backing off too much and didn’t show any interest in me at all – professional or personal.”

Houlihan’s reaction to this was professional and sensible, but many other young girls may view this attention as positive and genuine when, essentially, they are only being groomed.

Flirty

It is commonly thought that sexual harassment in the workplace only happens to female, but men also encounter pressure from their superiors.

James Smith, 26, spoke about his experience when he started working as a model: “I needed money and everyone around was telling me I should give modelling a try. I went through a couple of agencies until finally I got signed.

Lawyers suggest avoiding legal action and say that the best thing to do is outline the fact that you are serious about your work from the very beginning.

“I noticed that the chief agent was quite flirty, but I thought that this was normal behaviour because she was very friendly with everyone.

“She started calling me in to her office increasingly. She said it was just to have a chat with me, but she was asking questions about my love life and even my sex life.

“She asked me if I wanted to have dinner with her and I said yes, thinking that nothing bad could come out of a meal. That night we ended up at her apartment.

“I told this to one of the other guys at the agency who unfortunately spread the rumour. My contract was ended not long after.

“I realise now that the way I acted was completely unprofessional and I learnt from my mistake.

“Luckily the next agency that I signed with was one of the biggest in Europe and I am still working with them.”

Lawyers suggest avoiding legal action and say that the best thing to do is outline the fact that you are serious about your work from the very beginning.

Harassment is about power, as is dealing with it.

If you never give seniors in the workplace the chance to start with things like improper comments, there is less chance of inappropriate behaviour happening further.

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