Sexual Harassment and Assault in the Hospitality/Service Industry

Sophie Perry is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo campaign, discussions of sexual harassment and assault are more prevalent than ever. While the Weinstein scandal has revealed the sheer volume of sexual assault and abuse that takes place behind the gilded doors of Hollywood, the #MeToo campaign has revealed the staggering number of ‘normal’ people who have suffered sexual harassment and assault in their lives. Such discussions, be they on social media or not, are beginning destabilise the stigmas surrounding these types of assault. It is for this reason that I wanted to conduct a survey of the hospitality/service industry, an industry I have worked in for a number of years, to examine the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in this sector. I believe there is an important need for such research as in recent months the BBC released the results of a ComRes poll for BBC Radio 5, which revealed that over ‘Half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study’. [1] Therefore, I wanted to see if my research matched with the BBC’s statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace because, in my experience at least, sexual harassment in this industry is discussed colloquially between colleagues, but hardly ever reported.

In order to conduct my research, I used the online survey development website SurveyMonkey for accessibility and purposes of ease. After creating my survey I posted it on Facebook, Breaking The Glass Ceiling also sharing it to their Facebook page, as well as sending it to current and previous colleagues. Following the completion of the survey, and upon examining the results, it could be seen that out of the participants completing the survey over 90% were women and just under 10% were men. When these participants were asked what roles they had in the service industry 78% stated ‘Waiting Staff’, 65% ‘Bar Staff’, 22% ‘Front of House Management’ and 9% ‘Other’. Out of the participants who replied ‘Other’ their answers included roles such as ‘Barista’ and ‘Carvery Chef’. sexharas1

The next question fully focused on the issue of sexual harassment by asking ‘Have you ever experienced sexual harassment and/or assault within the hospitality/service industry?’. The results showed that 61% of the participants answered ‘Yes’ to the question while 39% answered ‘No’. Following this, my next question aimed to find out whom committed the sexual harassment or assault and for this question I listed the options of ‘Colleague’, ‘Customer’ and ‘Other’. The results revealed that 27% of the participants had been harassed or assaulted by a colleague while 60% had been by a customer, 33% then chose to answer ‘Other’. One response to the ‘Other’ section stated that they have ‘been a witness’ while another two responses cited ‘Boss’ and ‘Manager’ as the perpetrators. While a ‘Boss’ or ‘Manager’ could be considered a colleague I believe the fact that the participants cited these responses in the ‘Other’ section highlights the differential power dynamics of these roles.


When asked the gender of the person who committed the sexual harassment and/or assault 80% of the participants stated ‘Male’ with 0% stating ‘Female’. However, of the other 20% of participants that stated ‘Other’ one response explained that ‘It was a lady getting frisky with a guy who didn’t want it’. Thus, there is a percentage for female perpetrators but in the case of this survey these figures cannot be examined accurately as the participant used the ‘Other’ section to explain the situation further. Participants were then asked to ‘define your experience/experiences of sexual harassment and/or assault’, whereby they were given the options of ‘Inappropriate Language’, ‘Inappropriate Touching’, ‘I Would Prefer Not To Specify’ and ‘Other (Please Specify). Of the participants 80% cited ‘Inappropriate Language’, 53% ‘Inappropriate Touching’, 7% ‘I Would Prefer Not To Specify’ and 13% ‘Other (Please Specify), with one response of the 13% stating ‘A customer following me home’. The final question of the survey was an open style question that asked for participants to ‘detail your specific instances of sexual harassment and/or assault’, if they wished to. I have cited some examples below:

  • ‘Refused to serve a guy who was too drunk. So he called me a slut. Many incidents similar to this. Mainly sexually violent language / verbal abuse while working on a student bar. I was also groped while working the bar in a nightclub’
  • ‘Multiple times, multiple managers: sexual harassment, not assault. Inappropriate comments, like about how my body looked in my uniform or how my jeans fit, along with comments about what they would do if I would go out with them. When alone, squeezes / grabs at the body’
  • ‘Manager making advanced after repeatedly being rejected, customers making inappropriate comments or being way too creepy and insistent on taking me out, waiting for my shift to end or following me home’
  • ‘Pet names e.g darling, unwanted, persistent flirting’

I believe my research has shown that sexual harassment and assault is a prevalent issue within the service industry sector. However, this is only one small survey conducted by myself and that fact throws up a lot of issues of reliability and validity. If this research is to be taken as a small window into a wider issue then a much larger survey must be conducted in order to see the true scale of the issue. In this way I think it is the role of the major hospitality companies in the UK, such as Whitbread, Mitchells & Butlers and Marstons, to research and gain an insight into the sexual harassment and assault that their workers face. For, only then can changes to policies and practices be implemented to make these workplaces as safe a place to work as possible and workers feel comfortable in speaking out about harassment and assault.


[1] Anon,. ‘’Half of women’ sexually harassed at work, says BBC survey’, <> [Accessed: 15th January 2018].

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