Risk factors for workplace sexual harassment and violence among a national cohort of women in Iceland: a cross-sectional study

Elsevier, The Lancet Public Health, Volume 7, September 2022
Jonsdottir S.D., Hauksdottir A., Aspelund T., Jakobsdottir J., Runarsdottir H., Gudmundsdottir B. et al.
Background: Sexual harassment and violence in the workplace are a serious public health concern for women worldwide with substantial costs due to sick leave and personnel turnover. Yet little is known about the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence at a population level, especially across work sectors. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment and violence by demographic factors and work sectors among Icelandic women. Methods: For this cross-sectional study we analysed nationally representative, de-identified individual-level data from women who had responded to an online survey item about self-labelled current and lifetime workplace sexual harassment or violence as part of the Stress and Gene Analysis (SAGA) study, a cross-sectional nationally representative study done from March 1, 2018, to July 1, 2019. Eligible participants were women who resided in Iceland, were aged between 18 and 69 years, spoke Icelandic, and had a registered address from the Icelandic Population Register or a telephone number from the online 1819 service. We used binomial and Poisson regression analysis to study the cross-sectional association between workplace sexual harassment and violence and demographic factors (eg, age, sexual orientation, and education) and factors relating to the workplace (eg, work schedule), across works sectors. Findings: Of 113 814 eligible women, 104 197 were invited to complete the online survey, of whom 30 403 women responded and were included in the SAGA cohort. 15 799 women answered the item about exposure to workplace sexual harassment or violence. 11 286 [71·4%] of 15 799 women answered the question about sexual orientation that were included in the survey from June, 2018. 5291 (33·5%) of 15 799 of participants reported having experienced workplace sexual harassment or violence during their lifetime, and 1178 (7·5%) in their current workplace. Such exposure in the current workplace was most common among women who were young (age 18–24 years: prevalence ratio [PR] 3·89 [95% CI 2·66–5·71]; age 25–35 years: 3·66 [2·53–5·31]), single (1·27 [1·12–1·43]), and worked shifts (2·32 [2·02–2·67]), with the highest prevalence rates observed among women in work sectors of public figures (15·67 [9·34–25·12]), tourism (15·01 [11·01–20·13]), and the legal system and security (13·56 [7·00–24·66]). Lifetime exposure to workplace sexual harassment or violence was more common among women who belonged to sexual minorities than among heterosexual women (PR 1·35 [1·24–1·46]). Interpretation: Lifetime exposure to workplace sexual harassment or violence seems common among women in a Nordic welfare state. These findings provide nuanced targets for prevention and for public policies aimed at promoting women's safety in the work environment. Funding: Icelandic Gender Equality Fund, European Research Council, and Icelandic Centre for Research.