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#MeToo: the next steps

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Fawcett Society, #MeToo, awareness, report, sexual harassment at work, Section 40, Employers should have a duty to protect women employees from clients, contractors, or patients who harass.

New research from the Fawcett Society has found that one year on from the outpouring of #MeToo stories, there has been a significant shift in attitudes to sexual harassment.

According to the research, released on 2 October and supported by the law firm Hogan Lovells, a majority of people (53 per cent) said that since #MeToo what is seen as acceptable has changed.

The biggest change has taken place in the 18-34 age group, with over half of young people saying they are now more likely to speak up against sexual harassment, including 58 per cent of young men.

Older people are significantly less likely to call out inappropriate behaviour or have a conversation about sexual harassment – but they do think the boundaries have changed; 56 per cent of men aged 55+ said that what other people think “is and isn’t acceptable” has shifted in the last year.

But the government is clearly lagging behind society when it comes to tackling harassment.

Despite the scandal surrounding the harassment exposed at the Presidents’ Club dinner in January this year, for example, legislation which would protect women who are at work from harassment by a client or a customer has still not been introduced.

The report found that awareness of the #MeToo hashtag was high, with 43 per cent of women and men saying they had heard of it, and 85 per cent of those who had heard of it able to identify the hashtag.

It also found that knowledge of the movement has had an impact – people who were aware of #MeToo were one and a half times more likely to say that the boundaries of acceptable behaviour have changed with 69 per cent of those who were aware of #MeToo agreeing compared to 46 per cent who were unaware.

But although overall 28 per cent of men and 34 per cent of women have had a conversation with someone of the same sex about sexual harassment, only 16 per cent of men aged over 55 had compared with 54 per cent of men aged 18-34.

The report recommends that the government:

Reintroduces “third party harassment” laws, so that employers have a duty to protect women from clients, contractors, or patients who harass;

Ensures that forthcoming Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) guidance refers to gender-based violence like sexual harassment;

Delivers on a recent commitment to review hate crime legislation and make misogyny a hate crime; and

Introduces a new duty on large employers to prevent discrimination and harassment in their workplaces.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society’s Chief Executive, said:  “This survey confirms that we have had a year of disruptive attitudinal and behavioural change and that was long overdue.

“Other evidence shows we are also still seeing significant numbers of women being sexually harassed at work.

“Now it is time for tougher legislation and real, lasting culture change.

“We need to bring back Section 40 of the Equality Act which would outlaw harassment from customers and clients.

“But we also need to go further and place a new duty on large employers to prevent discrimination and harassment.

“Employers have to take responsibility for their own workplace culture.

“Older men have to be part of the change because they often hold positions of power. But their attitudes are lagging behind. They don’t seem to realise the #MeToo movement is also about them.”

Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said: “We are a year on from the truly global explosion of #MeToo, first started by young black women who found people looked the other way when they called out sexual abuse.

“In the UK, despite the number of women coming forward to call out sexual harassment at work, and ever increasing numbers reporting sexual assaults to the police, we have a justice system that is resisting and has been shown to be putting women on trial for their choices and even the text messages they send their friends on their phones, rather than the perpetrators who need to be held to account.

“The women in film and the arts who stood up to say #MeToo over the last year and who built TIME’S UP as a way for us to resist together, have made it possible to have a different conversation about the daily reality of this abuse, and how it is not inevitable.

“The justice system, and everyone who minimises or makes excuses for this behaviour, will not be able to do so with cover for much longer.

“The results of the Fawcett Society’s new research are testament to the impact of these movements.”

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