Sexual harassment at work
What is it?
Sexual harassment at work does not only include actions which in any case fall under “Offences Against Sexual Self-determination” of the German penal code, but also occurs if “an unwanted conduct of a sexual nature takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of the person concerned” (General Act on Equal Treatment, AGG, § 3, par. 4).
This consists in demands for sexual actions, physical contact of a sexual nature, comments of a sexual nature, as well as the unwanted exposure or public exhibition of pornographic images, appraising looks, unwanted suggestive invitations, threatening with professional disadvantages in case of sexual denial, promising professional advantages in case of sexual complaisance and rape.
Sexual harassment at work is usually a calculated and conscious action. Sexual harassment at work is not an isolated problem of individual women – even though women that are affected often feel very alone when subjected to it – but a widespread and hidden form of discrimination against women in the working environment. Often the harassment is more than just a one-off; it is generally repetitive. It not only occurs in remote rooms but also in public workplaces, canteens, break rooms, in staircases or corridors.
Sexual harassment at work is a social, i.e. structural, problem. Sexuality is specifically used to discriminate, humiliate and exercise power. With it, a social climate is expressed, wherein women are still less appreciated at a professional level and where men are used to having a sense of superiority over women. Sexual harassment at work is used to secure one’s own supremacy and stabilise one’s own self-esteem.