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16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence: Martina’s story of sexual harassment at work

November 28, 2022

This week we are marking 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence by shedding a light on the widespread issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, sharing the experiences of some of the women in low-paid and insecure work who have been involved in our research and calling for better protections against sexual harassment at work.

Martina’s story

TW: sexual harassment

Martina works as a cleaner at an outsourced cleaning company and was sexually harassed by an employee of the client company she provides cleaning services to. The perpetrator would leave images of himself, naked, on mobile and computer screens for Martina to find.

One day he left his phone on the desk, supposedly charging. He seemed nervous. When I was cleaning the desk, I realised that his screen was showing some images. It called my attention and when I looked at it, I realised that there was a picture of him, naked. He had taken a selfie, naked.

The same thing happened again, this time on a computer screen.

[A]gain, he was very nervous. He left the same photographs, but this time on the computer screen. I don’t know if you’ve experienced something like this before? I pretended not to have noticed, but then I realised that this was the second time, and I got really nervous and left.

A male employee at the client company noticed that Martina looked pale and distressed and asked her if she was ok. Martina told him what happened, and he laughed it off.

[H]e started making jokes, making fun of the man, and started saying, “You can tell him that you need a microscope to look at it”, and making jokes like that.

A female employee of the client company happened to be passing by and, when she heard what had happened, reported it. The next day Martina was told that the perpetrator had been fired. She said she had never expected to experience this kind of harassment in the UK and would not have known what to do if the client company employees had not intervened.

I was embarrassed! My colleague said: “You should have stopped him” but I was in shock. I couldn’t speak about it. I know my rights in terms of salary, payslips, etc., but when it came to knowing what to do when facing a situation like this, not at all! I had no idea.

Language was once again a barrier.

I then wanted to say a lot of things [to the client company employees], but they wouldn’t have understood me in Spanish. Later on, I cried. I spoke to others, and then felt better.

Read more about our work on sexual harassment in the workplace here.