BFAWU announces launch of Sexual Harassment campaign and supported by our sisters from Women against rape.

Has the #MeToo movement helped workers in the fast food and hospitality
industry to speak out about sexual violence at work and win protection?
Women Against Rape reports.
Sexual violence in the hospitality industry is much more common than we all think.
We don’t exactly know how common because most people don’t tell anyone.
Abusers count on the victim being afraid to report it, scared that she may lose her job if she is not believed or even if she is.
Anyone on low pay, zero hours contracts, or with insecure immigration status, and who is not a union member, is particularly vulnerable, especially to managers or colleagues in senior positions. 
Many fast food workers are teenagers and don’t know their rights, and all are seen as disposable. And those of us who have children to feed are terrified of losing our job and our housing. Austerity cuts, especially to welfare benefits, which have targeted women, and the social housing crisis, have made women on low wages more vulnerable to sexual violence as we can no longer
rely on benefits to survive.
But things are changing. Decades of campaigning by organisations like ours, individual women and other survivors who fought back, and the advent of social media have enabled global movements like #MeToo. This has encouraged workers in the hospitality industry to come forward.
IN THE UNITED STATES, in September 2018, hundreds of McDonald’s women workers in the US launched 10-day strike across many states. Organizing with the Fight for $15 campaign, which is demanding a living wage for all workers, they demanded that McDonald’s stop sexual harassment in its workplaces.
There is an ongoing legal battle in the US: the multinational company denies liability for the sexual harassment that has been reported, instead blaming each incident on the local franchise manager who may have to pay damages. McDonald’s local branches have been sued several times, and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was appealed to again in May when 10 women filed sexuaharassmencomplaints.
The Times Up Legal Defense Fund says they offer support to selected cases of those who experience sexual harassment in the workplace. We don’t know how many women have been able to use it.
IN THE UK TOO some workers have come forward. We have heard about different  types of sexual abuse: sexual comments and propositions, men exposing themselves, groping/sexual assault, even rape.
But it is hard to speak out if you don’t know your rights and you don’t know if your union is going to back you or you don’t have a union. The Bakers’ Union has come to Women Against Rape because it wants to ensure that workers can report any abuse, win justice and stop any further violence. We are very glad about that and want to support in every way we can.
Sexual abuse comes from customers, or from colleagues. But it is nastier and more worrying when it is someone abusing their position of authority, such as a manager who assumes he is entitled to impose his will on staff, without your consent.
Sexual abuse can also be racist or discriminatory in other ways. We work on such cases with other groups based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in London: All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Legal Action for Women, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)… on the basis of collective self-help.
To get away with it, an abuser may also accuse you of being complicit in some way (like you were seen acting flirty or you had sex with him in the past) – they often turn on the charm in public and only behave badly in private when no one is watching.
They may say you are emotional or hysterical.
Most victims of sexual abuse are women and girls, but we also know of men who are abused by other men. You may think you are the only one, but most likely other colleagues have faced the same at the hands of other men, and the man who is violating you has also violated others.
It is a basic human right to be safe at work, and if that is violated, you should get protection, justice and compensation and know that he’s not going to do the same to another colleague.
Whatever the particular circumstances, sexual harassment and rape are intimate crimes and particularly humiliating and traumatic compared to other injuries at work.
Some people have been abused in childhood and the trauma they have tried to bury in order to function is triggered by being abused again as an adult, taking them right back to the powerlessness they felt as a child.
Rape is a serious violent crime – many people suffer the effects for life, and can never trust anyone. There may be serious injury to mental health and physical disability. Victims may be unable to work, losing their income, their housing, their
marriage, etc. The effects can be catastrophic. It is even worse when there is no support or official acknowledgement, and the perpetrator never faces any form of punishment or justice.
Many women also suffer domestic violence at home. It is estimated that 1 in 4 women are victims at some time. It wears you down, isolating you and undermining your confidence. If it’s happening to you, please seek help. There are women’s refuges that can help you identify controlling and violent behaviour, help you plan your escape, and support you through the practicalities. (Refuge & WomenAid)
Some men threaten to harm the children or warn that social services will take them away if you complain.
Women denied immigration status have been forced by the “hostile environment” into destitution. Many have no choice but to do unpaid cleaning, caring, sex and other work in exchange for a roof over their own and their children’s heads, and food on the table: #UsToo.
WAR’s Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaighighlights the vulnerable and dangerous position forced upon this hidden workforce of immigrant women who are denied their legal right to work, access to any benefits and “public funds”.
Seeking help from the police when you haven’t established your right to stay can get you turned in to the Home Office, detained and deported. Violent men and exploitative employers know that and take advantage of it.
A woman, newly employed as a school teaching assistant, experienced a pattern of suggestive comments and intimate touching from a senior male teacher. She hadn’t joined the union yet and was denied help. She tried to avoid him but the constant threat made her very anxious. Her employer brushed it off as nobody had witnessed it. We helped her find out her rights online. She wrote to the employer and was then informed of disciplinary proceedings against her harasser. She suffered anxiously for several weeks only to be told that it wasn't an official process just an "informal investigation." She was finally offered a written apology.
A civil servant was raped by a senior work colleague during a work trip. She told her manager a few days later. They said she was the fourth person to report this man yet they still didn't deal with it properly. Human Resources did a token investigation and said her account didn't match up with train times, etc. But rape trauma can distort our memory about such details. A later manager was more supportive and suggested she consider reporting it to the police. By now it was two years after the attack. She couldn’t face going through the gruelling process of a full investigation. But she reported him to the police, so if other women report him the police can contact her and her testimony may help strengthen the case against this rapist.
A single woman from Cameroon was made destitute after her immigration claim was refused; she was forced into doing housework and childcare in exchange for
accommodation and food. When the husband of the household started raping her, she had nowhere else to go to escape. He threatened to report her to the Home Office if she told his wife, so she had to suffer months of horrific abuse until we helped her find a lawyer.
A mother from Nigeria living in similar circumstances tried to get help to reopen her asylum claim and have access to hostel accommodation. Shockingly, the lawyer she saw raped her and then used her precarious immigration status to frighten her from reporting him.
We heard from the Bakers Union about a particular McDonald’s manager who
sexually abused women staff. When they reported him higher up, he was moved to another branch. But the women in the new branch were warned about him by his earlier victims and they collectively complained and got him sacked. That’s solidarity among women workers, a form of collective self-defence!
Cases have been fought by the Bakers Union, and with help from a lawyer, some
won compensation. But they were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement – not to speak about it, or publicise it. This means the company keeps it hushed up, and if no other action is taken the man remains free to do the same to another vulnerable worker. But they won important official acknowledgement of their suffering and got financial help towards rebuilding their life.
The more we make these companies pay, the more we must find ways to publicise it so others know they are not alone. This in turn puts pressure on the company to stop men sexually abusing their power.
Whether to report violence to the police and/or the employer is always a delicate decision. You may want to contact the Bakers Union to talk this through. They are committed to providing support and helping to build a movement to tackle sexual violence, as they are doing against workplace injuries with their #McBurns Campaign.
Some things you need to consider might include: what evidence is there to back up your story – did anyone witness anything? Do you have any injuries? Did you take photos of them? Were they recorded with a GP or a hospital? Do you have a clear memory of what happened, or was it hampered by drink or drugs? You are not to blame for what happened to you, and your report should be believed and investigated thoroughly and impartially.
If your employer acts against the man, the man could be removed or disciplined and you could get support or compensation to help you recover. In some cases, unfortunately, the victim is moved to another location.
If you go to the police, they should investigate, and if it goes to court it could result in the man being convicted. But that would only be likely if there was strong evidence to support what you say and prove you did not consent.
In some instances, the man has done it before and similar cases can be joined in court to make a stronger argument. But each case must have strong enough evidence to stand alone.
If you are not believed, or the man counter-accuses you of something and he is believed, you may end up in a weaker position. In this case, the man may think he can do it again, to you or to someone else.
It is you who should make the decision on whether to report or not as you are on the spot and in the best position to weigh it all up. But you are stronger when you are not alone; so get information about your rights and get support from others.
If you are thinking of reporting to the police, take a look at our online Justice is Your Right which explains in plain language each step of the criminal justice process. It answers basic questions like: Should I report to the police? Should I get a medical/forensic examination? But it doesn’t go into sexual violence in the workplace – we are working to update that.
Victims need information about their rights, to help make informed choices, especially about how best to handle the police. Our Guide spells out the actual experiences women have had going through the legal process, rather than the official line on what is supposed to happen but often doesn’t. It explains common problems that come up and how to get the best out of a situation. Many women have told us they find our Guide invaluable.
It’s frightening and embarrassing when abuse happens to you. We encourage people to tell someone they trust, starting with a good friend or relative. Get them to support you to maybe seek other help. You may get support and advice from the Bakers Union, even if you are not yet a member.
If you have suffered anything like this, or witnessed it happening, get in touch, we want to hear from you. Please contact the Bakers Union, and/or Women Against Rape with any questions and experiences, so that we can work together to defend your rights.
You don’t have to put up with it! Let’s build a strong movement to end sexual violence everywhere. Let employers and their friends in high places know that they will not get away with it any more! Women Against Rape is based at Crossroads Women Centre in London. We provide support and legal information based on self-help. Informed by our casework we campaign for justice and protection for women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual or domestic violence. We work closely with other organisations at the Women’s Centre, particularly Black Women’s Rape Action Project, and the All African Women’s Group – a self-organised group of women seeking asylum, many of whom fled rape and are fighting for a place of safety in the UK.
Contact Women Against Rape
Read more Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaign
Crossroads Women Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX Phone 020
7482 2496