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Survey: Offensive Sexual Jokes Top Harassment List at UN

by Edith M. Lederer .
Thursday Jan 17, 2019
Survey: Offensive Sexual Jokes Top Harassment List at UN

A survey of sexual harassment within the far-flung United Nations system found that a third of respondents experienced at least one incident in the last two years — most commonly sexual stories or jokes that were offensive.

The online survey conducted by the consulting company Deloitte in November was sent to all U.N. staff, temporary personnel and contractors, ranging from drivers to cleaners, who worked at facilities around the world. It got 30,364 replies — or about 17 percent of those polled.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a letter to U.N. staff obtained Wednesday that the "moderately low" response tells him that "we still have a long way to go before we are able to fully and openly discuss sexual harassment."

There also might "be an ongoing sense of mistrust, perceptions of inaction and lack of accountability," he said.

According to the survey, 33 percent, or 10,032 of the respondents, reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual harassment in the last two years. In addition, nearly 38.7 percent reported sexual harassment had occurred at some point during their time at the United Nations.

"While these figures are comparable to other organizations, we cannot comfort ourselves with the idea that we are all struggling to address this scourge," Guterres said. "As an organization founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard."

Deloitte reported that the most common forms of sexual harassment was the telling of offensive sexual stories or jokes, reported by 21.7 percent of respondents. This was followed by offensive remarks about a person's appearance, body or sexual activities, reported by 14.2 percent.

The survey said 10.1 percent of respondents reported being touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, 9.1 percent reported unwanted attempts to establish a romantic sexual relationship, and 1.3 percent reported attempts to sexually assault them or actual attacks including rape.

The highest prevalence of sexual harassment was reported by respondents who identified themselves as women, lesbian, gay or queer — and junior staff. Volunteers and consultants were greater targets than employees of the U.N.

Guterres said more needs to be done to address the vulnerability of these groups.

He said the U.N. has beefed up investigations and compiled a database that prevents the re-hiring of anyone responsible for sexual harassment while employed in the U.N. system.

"Perhaps one of the most important findings of the survey is the way in which exclusion and incivility are highly correlated with incidents of harassment, providing a permissive environment for such behavior," Guterres said.

He said the U.N. must "foster a workplace that is inclusive, where accountability is consistent, where power is never abused and where there is no fear of retaliation."

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