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One third of UN workers experience sexual harassment in past two years: survey

Xinhua | Updated: 2019-01-16 14:58
UN Security Council expressed concern about allegations of sexual harassment in peacekeeping operations and affirmed its support for the secretary-general's zero-tolerance policy on all forms of sexual harassment. [Photo/IC]

UNITED NATIONS - As high as 38.7 percent of UN employees reported that they had experienced sexual harassment in the past two years, according to a UN-commissioned online survey released Tuesday.

The survey, the first of its kind within the UN system, was conducted in November 2018 by global auditing and consultancy firm Deloitte with the participation of more than 30,000 employees from 31 UN entities.

The survey finds that the most common forms of sexual harassment were: sexual stories or jokes that were offensive (21.7 percent), offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities (14.2 percent), unwelcome attempts to draw them into a discussion on sexual matters (13 percent), gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature (10.9 percent) and touching which made them feel uncomfortable (10.1 percent).

Respondents who identified themselves as female, transgender, gender nonconforming, and other reported the highest prevalence rates, respectively 41.4 percent, 51.9 percent, 50.6 percent, and 50 percent.

Relative to other age groups, two in five respondents aged between 25 and 34 reported experiencing sexual harassment.

In terms of employment types, prevalence rates were highest for junior professional officers or associate experts, UN volunteers and consultants.

The most severe forms of sexual harassment, including actual or attempted rape, were most commonly experienced by heterosexual females, aged between 35 and 44 years, employed as professional or general services personnel in fixed-term employment.

Two out of three harassers were male, and one out of three harassers were aged between 45 and 54 years. More than half of harassers were colleagues and one in four were supervisors or managers. Nearly one in 10 harassers were senior leaders.

The survey finds that sexual harassment is under-reported.

Only one in three targets reported that they took action as a result of experiencing sexual harassment and 37 percent of them choose to deal with it themselves. Targets indicated that they were more likely to seek support from colleagues or supervisors rather than make a formal report.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a letter to UN staff at the release of the survey results, said the response rate of the survey was "moderately low", which was 17 percent.

The results confirm that there are continued barriers to reporting, including a fear of retaliation and a perception that perpetrators, for the most part, enjoy impunity, he wrote.

He also stressed the need to address the vulnerability of specific groups, including young people, junior staff, and short-term staff.

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