Accueil » 45-1 ( 1990) » Le harcèlement sexuel au travail: Résultats de deux études québécoises

Le harcèlement sexuel au travail: Résultats de deux études québécoises

Dominique Savoie et Viateur Larouche


Les auteurs présentent les données de deux études québécoises menées respectivement en 1983 et 1986 sur le harcèlement sexuel au travail. Les résultats sont présentés sous sept rubriques distinctes: 1) types de comportements harcelants; 2) caractéristiques de la personne harcelée; 3) caractéristiques du harceleur; 4) lien d'autorité (ou organisationnel) existant entre la personne harcelée et le harceleur; 5) réactions des personnes harcelées, des tiers et des harceleurs; 6) conséquences vécues par les personnes harcelées et les harceleurs et 7) caractéristiques des milieux du travail dans lesquels se trouvaient les personnes harcelées.


The present article examines the empirical evidence related to the notion of sexual harassment in the workplace. Particular attention is paid to results obtained from two research studies conducted in 1983 and 1986.

For the first research study conducted in 1983, a sample as well as a subsample were used. The first group, identified as sample A, was composed of sixty (N = 60) females randomly selected from an original sample of two hundred and eighty-seven (N = 287) females living in the Montreal area. From the same original sample (N = 287), a subsample of forty-two (N = 42) females, working within the Quebec Health and Social Services Network, was obtained from which seven (N = 7) subjects have been retained for the study and identified as sample B. For the secondary research study, conducted in 1986, sixteen (N=16) out of twenty-seven (N = 27) female workers of the Quebec Health and Social Services Network have been retained and identified as sample C.

The subjects were eighteen (18) year old females who have been on the labor market during the last decade. They pointed out that a situation of sexual harassment is likely to occur at work and have accepted to be interviewed individually. The results from these two research studies are submitted according to seven topics: 1) Types of harassing behavior; 2) The harassee's profile; 3) The harasser's profile; 4) The organizational relationship between harassee and harasser; 5) The harassee's, the harasser's and third party's reaction to sexual harassment in the workplace; 6) The consequences of sexual harassment affecting the harassee and 7) Workplace characteristics.

Whether we define sexual harassment as a constraining behavior at times and as an annoying behavior as well as a constraining one at others, the probability of experiencing sexual harassment at work is located somewhere between thirty (30%) and sixty percent (60%).

Subjects of the three samples indicated that they are mostly victims of verbal (as much annoying as constraining) and physical (constraining) harassing behaviors. Furthermore, these women emphasized that they have been subjected to a progressive form of sexual harassment starting with verbal (70%) to an annoying degree (92%), and becoming afterwards more physical (62%) to a constraining degree (95%). In more than 75% of the cases, the harassee's profile is that of an under thirty years old (30) female, whereas in 57% of the cases the latter is even less than twenty five years old. However, one has to look at the context in which the sexual harassment behavior took place before drawing any conclusion regarding the role of age in this matter.

The harasser's profile is that of a thirty-six to a forty-five years old (52%) male (100%) which, in 84% of the cases, is living with his spouse. Moreover, the latter is either fulfilling supervision functions (47%), or is working as a professionnal (14%).

Finally, based on the harassee's knowledge, 92% of the harassers act alone and nine (9) out of ten (10) are recidivists. The organizational relationship between harassee and harasser is mainly one that develops when a formai and informai authority is detained by one person over the other. Therefore, the harasser could be either a superior or a co-worker.

Concerning the reactions of parties involved in the sexual harassment situation, nine (9) harassees out of ten (10) reported having resisted to the harasser's advances (90,4%). On the other hand, nine (9) out of ten (10) harasses, have clearly responded verbally or physically to the harasser's manoeuvres (93%). Regardless of the actions taken against the harasser, the latter generally continue or increases (89%) his sexual harassment in the workplace. Finally, the harassees obtain rather weak support (if any) for their cause from either feminine or masculine co-workers, and neither do they obtain it from their union or employer.

The consequences of sexual harassment for the harassee are of several interests and can be compared to the results obtained from studies done on rape. In facts, compared to women who have been sexually assaulted, harassees have been reporting fewer feelings of guilt (30%), whereas feelings of hate, disgust and contempt seen in the former are replaced here by a fierce anger (60%) toward the harasser.

Furthermore, 18,3% of the harassees are experiencing physiological and psychological side effects which require medical treatment. Finally, 38,6% of the harassees are undergoing some difficulties at work, such as low performance (38,6%), job losses (16,6%) and sabotage done to their work, as well as no cooperation (18,3%).

Concerning the consequences of sexual harassment for the harassers, only 22,6% of them suffered from their behavior (group rejection, disciplinary measures and dismissal).

Finally, it is mainly in the manufacturing industry where we can expect the highest probability of finding sexual harassment (33% vs a 30,7% average). Moreover, women in non-traditional jobs are submitted to a greater probability of being sexually harassed at work (37,5% and 40,7% vs a 30,7 average). While the results obtained from the first research study were confirmed by the second, both point out that there are two principal sets of variables which significantly influence the probability of experiencing a sexual harassment situation: the hierarchical structures of enterprises and the work environment.

While it remains difficult to work on the latter, it is still possible to act upon the former. Access to equal employment opportunities programs may, in the long run, have an important impact on variables of the labor market environment, and therefore render the workplace less propitious to situations where sexual harassment behaviors are likely to develop.