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Nordic research on sexual harassment presented in new report

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a major social problem in the Nordic countries. The many #MeToo calls for action during the autumn of 2017 in particular are testimony to this. Knowledge on this issue in the Nordic countries has been compiled for the first time in the report “Sexual harassment in the workplace – An overview of the research in the Nordic countries”.


The report outlines current knowledge about sexual harassment in the Nordic countries and identifies needs for additional knowledge. This research overview was produced by Nordic Information on Gender (NIKK) and commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers as the basis for a Nordic research initiative in the area. The Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, sees the report as an important step toward a society in which gender equality prevails, free from violence and harassment.

“This report offers an important overview of the gaps and indeed chasms in our factual knowledge of sexual harassment in the workplace. It highlights the importance of multidisciplinary research and of continuing Nordic collaboration on ending sexual harassment at work and other forms of violence against women and girls. Such violence is both the cause and consequence of wider gender inequalities and we have both a legal and a moral obligation to end it.”

Great need for more Nordic knowledge

The report charts how sexual harassment takes different forms in the workplace depending on the occupation. The report shows that, regardless of the industry investigated, the consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace are devastating for both individuals and organisations. Some common consequences are mental ill-health, sickness absence, diminished career opportunities, and burdensome staff turnover as a result of terminations.  Malin Svensson, PhD in child and youth studies, has written the report and in it she identifies the need for cross-sectoral knowledge.

“Sexual harassment can look different depending on the nature of the occupation, and experiences may differ between occupational groups, for example whether or not the employee’s physical body is central to performing their work. That is why we need cross-sectoral knowledge from many countries that can identify broader patterns in the Nordic labour market. The report also shows that a focus on gender and age is too narrow. We need knowledge about how gender, age, ethnicity and skin colour, functionality/disability, and sexual identity operate in tandem with the risks of being sexually harassed at work.”

The report also identifies the need for more and deeper knowledge about why sexual harassment occurs and about structural conditions that contribute to or prevent the incidence of sexual harassment if we are going to be able to understand and counter harassment. Malin Svensson identifies a number of key knowledge gaps where more research is needed to be able to tackle this social problem energetically.

“There is agreement within the research field that the number of unreported cases is high and that women, as well as other groups, who have been the victims of harassment do not report it for various reasons. We also need to know more about the perpetrators – who they are and what drives them to offend. There is also a need for more knowledge about the working conditions and conditions of employment that can constitute particular risk factors for being sexually harassed.

The research overview is based on a systematic review of the research and other relevant literature from the Nordic countries between the years 2014 and 2019. Read “Sexually harassed at work – an overview of the research in the Nordic countries” here.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland