Sexual misconduct complaints mostly ignored by employers, survey suggests

A former CBC radio producer who worked on Q with Jian Ghomeshi says she endured repeated instances of abuse from him in the workplace, but felt powerless to stop it
A former CBC radio producer who worked on Q with Jian Ghomeshi says she endured repeated instances of abuse from him in the workplace, but felt powerless to stop it

Most people who experience workplace sexual harassment or non-consensual sexual contact in Canada never report it to their employer, to a large degree out of fear or shame, a new survey suggests.

For those who do report it, there is a 60 per cent chance their employer won't take any concrete action or will dismiss their complaint, the findings suggest.

- Cross Country Checkup: How widespread is workplace sex harassment?

The results come from an online survey conducted by the new Angus Reid Institute in mid-November, when sexual misconduct stories — about Parliament and about allegations against former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi — were prominent in the news.

For its poll, the institute randomly chose 1,504 people from a standing group of panellists and asked them a series of questions about their experiences of sexual harassment and physical contact on the job.

"The results show that while both genders identified experiences of harassment, women are —unsurprisingly — four times as likely to have been harassed as men," the organization said in a release.

Overall, the Angus Reid Institute survey found 30 per cent of respondents indicated they had experienced sexual harassment or non-consensual sexual contact or both at some point at work — amounting to millions of Canadians.

"Almost two million Canadians … have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work within the past 24 months," the institute said.

Job and career worries deter reporting

The results help point to one reason why, despite decades-long campaigns for attitudinal changes and awareness, sexual misconduct persists in many workplaces. Simply, a large majority of employees who experience it don't feel comfortable reporting it, the results suggest.

Among respondents who said they had suffered workplace sexual harassment — things like sexual advances, sexual talk or requests for sexual favours from a colleague — 78 per cent said they did not report it to their employer. And among those who suffered the more severe non-consensual sexual touching, 80 per cent declared that they didn't report it.

Asked why that was, the single most common reason for not reporting sexual misconduct, cited by almost 45 per cent of respondents, was that they "preferred to deal with it on their own."

But taken together, a constellation of other reasons related to shame and fear was behind the bulk of the non-reporting:

- 21% of victims of workplace sexual misconduct who did not report it said they "didn't think the employer would respond well."

- 16% said they were "embarrassed by what happened."

- 13% feared losing their job.

- 12% expressed fear about hurting their career.

- 10% worried they wouldn't be believed.

- 5% said they were "scared to come forward."

And some of those fears appear to be borne out by employers' responses. The survey found that a majority of the time someone reported misconduct— in 60 per cent of cases — their employer took no concrete action or were dismissive of the complaint.

The survey was conducted Nov. 18 to 20 by the not-for-profit Angus Reid Institute, founded in October by veteran B.C. pollster Angus Reid with the stated aim of conducting and publishing polls on public policy issues.