In the European Union, no less than 45 % to 55 % of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15[1]. More recently, the #metoo campaign on social media, and the rise of new forms of violence such as cyber-harassment have demonstrated the continuing pervasiveness of the phenomenon.


According to the European Council, sexual harassment happens ‘where any form of unwanted verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment[2]’. To read about the legislation at the European level, please consult the Istanbul Convention.


Soroptimist International of Europe firmly condemns this violence against women, which can significantly harm one’s self-esteem and sense of dignity. The workplace is one of the key locations where sexual harassment is likely to happen. As a professional network of women, SIE aims to raise awareness about this issue, to combat it, and to protect victims.


What to do when facing sexual harassment?


If you face sexual harassment, directly or indirectly, here are some tips on how to react:


  • List all of the facts.
  • Confide in somebody you trust (friends, family, and support groups).
  • Consult a doctor and/or a psychologist. They will help you deal with feelings of guilt and/or shame and gain confidence.
  • Find support with a specialized association. They can advise and support you on how to proceed.
  • If possible, conduct an investigation. Often, the harasser has already had other victims so you won’t be alone and other people can testify with you.
  • If the harassment occurs in a work environment, check your company manual or ask HR if there is a standard procedure for how to report harassment and a neutral employee to report it.
  • If your company is not taking action, this is illegal and you might want to lodge a complaint. Seek expert advice before doing so. Lodging a complaint in the labour court or in the civil court can be very different procedures, which imply a different power balance with your employer. Think strategically about how and in which court you would like to take legal action.

By lodging a complaint, you are helping the next victim. Another victim might have helped you already by lodging a complaint before.



[1] Source Violence against women: An EU-wide survey, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights


[2] Directive 2006/54/EC of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (recast)