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Revealed: This is the extent of sexual harassment in Germany's workplaces

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Revealed: This is the extent of sexual harassment in Germany's workplaces
File photo shows a woman at her desk with a man's hand on her back. Sexual harassment is rife in Germany workplaces. Photo: DPA
14:00 CET+01:00
Sexual harassment in German workplaces is rife, a study by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency has found. Are managers doing enough to stop it?

Inappropriate staring, verbal harassment and unwanted touching: having to put up with this kind of behaviour at work can be severely stressful for victims.

And a new study has found that one in 11 workers – that's nine percent – said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in Germany in the past three years.

More than half (53 percent) of the harassment came from third parties – such as customers, patients and clients, while 43 percent came from colleagues. A total of nine per cent came from superiors or people with a higher level of status, such as managers.

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Women (13 percent) were affected more than twice as often as men (five percent), the findings by the Anti-Discrimination Agency revealed.

More than 1,500 people in employment from across the country were asked about the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace and how they deal with it as part of the study.

According to the representative study, verbal harassment, such as sexual comments (62 percent) and inappropriate looks and gestures  (44 percent), were the most common form of harassment among those affected.

About a quarter (26 percent) of those affected experienced unwanted touching or physical contact. Most harassment experiences were not one-off incidents – eight out of ten respondents experienced more than one such situation.

Most experiences were not one-off incidents – eight out of ten respondents were harassed more than once. In addition, more than 80 percent of those affected said that men were the only or predominant perpetrators.

"Sexual harassment at work can have serious consequences for those affected," said Bernhard Franke, provisional head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.

Photo: DPA

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Which sectors are most affected?

There is a risk of sexual harassment in all industries. However, employees in occupational groups who come into contact with customers on a daily basis were most affected. Victims of harassment worked primarily in these industries:

Health and social services: 29 percent

Trade: 12 percent

Manufacturing industry: 11 percent

Education: 10 percent

"When customers harass them, employers must intervene immediately to protect their employees," said Franke.

The study shows that those affected often perceive sexual harassment as humiliating and derogatory as well as a threatening experience.

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For example, 48 percent of the women affected said that they felt humiliated and devalued by the harassment. The figure for men was 28 percent.

Meanwhile, 41 percent of women and 27 percent of men reported moderate to very severe psychological stress. And 30 percent of women and 21 percent of men said the situation resulted in medium to severe stress.

While two thirds of the respondents stated they fought back verbally after the harassment, four out of ten people affected only turned to third parties later.

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The people they confided in included:

Colleagues: 47 percent

Superiors: 36 percent

Friends or family: 15 percent

Counselling centres or therapeutic facilities: 11 percent

Managers need to take responsibility

Around 40 percent of employees do not know whether their company has its own complaints office at all – although employers are legally obliged to set up such offices and inform employees about them.

The authors of the study said managers had to take responsibility and inform their employees about what the procedures are, as well as regular checking up on their staff to make sure they are not suffering in silence.

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"It is in the interest of companies to intervene here by means of clear guidelines and measures to prevent sexual harassment – for example by appointing permanent contact persons and offering obligatory training for managers," said Franke.

Just one percent of those affected by sexual harassment at work took legal action themselves, the research found.

Some victims said they had chosen not to bring a case forward because they didn't feel well informed, they were worried about not being anonymous or they were stressed about negative consequences. Others said they attempted to solve the problem themselves.

A similar study by the anti-discrimination agency in 2015 found that every sixth women and every 14th man felt they had been a victim of sexual harassment at work.

To find organizations who provide counselling and support on discrimination cases visit  the Antidiskriminierungsverband Deutschland.

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