Women are twice as likely as men to experience unwanted sexual contact while at work Contributing factors for sexual violence in the workplace

Longstanding sexist attitudes, homophobia and transphobia contribute to sexual violence in the workplace and are embedded in institutions and practices. The response to address and end sexual violence must be an institutional and systemic one.

There are several other factors that make workers vulnerable to sexual violence:[i] 

  • Working in and with the public
  • Working in health care, education and social services
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Working late at night
  • Working without institutional support
  • Workplaces that are male-dominated
  • Workplaces with a high ratio of men in positions of power and authority
  • Workplaces with a high ratio of women in subordinate positions
  • Workplaces that support rigid gender roles and stereotypes
  • Workplaces with a paramilitary culture
  • Workplaces that do not actively challenge systems of oppression (sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and others)
  • Weak policies, practices and training to promote gender equity in the workplace.[ii] 

Many of these contributing factors may be present in CUPE members’ workplaces. Our members may work alone. Many deals with complex social interactions where they face intense emotions and violent behaviour from their employer, clients, members of the public and co-workers. Our members often provide direct care as nursing staff, personal care workers and health care aides. They provide support as education aides, custodial staff, bus drivers, flight attendants, caseworkers and clerical staff. They are guards, security officers, park rangers, orderlies and institutional attendants. They provide important public services in sectors confronted with cuts, privatization and understaffing.

Cuts, privatization and understaffing can lead to low worker morale, unrealistic workloads, increased stress and anxiety, as well as frustration from the public and clients.

Risk of sexual violence is amplified if workplace supervision is unsupportive and hostile, where management is overbearing and where co-worker communication is poor.

[i] Government of Canada, Harassment and Sexual Violence in the Workplace – Public Consultation What We Heard, 2017;  CUPE’s Health Safety Guidelines: Preventing violence and harassment in the workplace https://cupe.ca/sites/cupe/files/guideline_for_violence_prevention_in_the_workplace.pdf.

[ii] Ibid.