EMPLOYERS need to send clear messages about acceptable behaviour in the workplace after the spate of sexual harassment scandals, a specialist in the subject says.

Julie Johns – who runs the Safe Space Consultancy to provide training and support on issues of stalking and harassment – said there was a new impetus for culture change at work.

Allegations made against film producer Harvey Weinstein were followed by a flood of complaints against figures in the arts and entertainment, business and in politics, in both the UK and the US.

Ms Johns said: “Speaking up takes incredible courage as the person who has been sexually harassed, abused or raped then faces the risk of being further victimised.

“Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by anyone and can happen to anyone, although a higher percentage towards women than men, and is usually perpetrated by someone we know.”

A recent survey found 53 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men had experienced sexual harassment at their place of work or studied. Sixty-three per cent of women and 79 per cent of men affected did not tell anyone.

Ms Johns said not all workplaces were prepared for dealing with the problem.

“Clear messages need to be sent out within a workplace of what is and is not acceptable in terms of behaviour as well as safe and appropriate procedures for reporting abuse,” she said.

“The focus of attention is on the victim and their behaviour, what the person who suffered abuse should have done or not have done – meanwhile, where is the perpetrator in all of this?

“Due to this unhealthy attitude of focusing on the victim, the perpetrator of abuse has now become invisible and is free to find someone else to abuse.

“Now at last, with all the media attention, the focus and shame is fully where it belongs, spotlighted on the perpetrator.”

She said that sexual harassment was caused by the need for one person to gain power and control over another.

Harassment of women revealed the perpetrator’s sense of entitlement and their belief that women were inferior, she said.

“Perpetrators will use negative, manipulative communication such as, ‘Can’t you take a joke? I didn’t mean it’, thereby exploiting their victim’s sense of fear and knowing the risks they face in reporting the abuse” she added.

Safe Space Consultancy, based in Bournemouth, works with businesses and other organisations to raise awareness and provide training and support.

It held a training session earlier this week at Bournemouth’s Orchid Hotel in association with Dorset Rape Crisis Support Centre and Stress Right Training.