Sexual harassment in hospitality industry

By Fernando Lourenço

IFTM Comments is a partnership between Macau News Agency and Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

This article aims to examine the issue of sexual harassment in one of the most popular tourism destination of the world, Macau (China). Prior to 2017, sexual harassment was not a punishable offence in Macao. It was only on the 19thof June 2017 that the city’s Legislative Assembly passed an amendment of the region’s laws related to sexual harassment.

Fernando Lourenço is an Assistant Professor at the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM)

Nevertheless, the new law only considers sexual harassment involving physical contact as a crime while verbal and non-contact sexual harassment are not covered. The focus of this article is the current sexual harassment law which still leaves many gaps for sexual harassers and sexual predators to exploit opportunities to fulfil their sexual desires.

To start off, previous studies suggest that the service industry is a strong breeding ground for sexual harassments due to the peculiarity of the service sector. The nature of the service industry requires close interactions between employee and customer or among co-workers in the process of providing services. There is a high degree of human interaction, unusual working hours, and focus on sexuality and appearance. Customers presume the right to receive a wide range of hospitality services that goes beyond the products and services sold to satisfy their wishes. The expectation ranges from emotional labour, to psychological comfort, to sexual favours. In essence, this suggests that the labour force of our core service sector such as tourism, hospitality, entertainment, gaming and retail is at great risk of sexual harassment.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex”. Based on the existing literature, we can plot a range of sexually inappropriate behaviour in the following continuum:

1) Gender harassment: using sexist statements and behaviour that put across insulting, degrading and/or sexist attitudes.

2) Seductive behaviour: receiving unwanted, inappropriate and offensive physical or verbal sexual advances.

3) Sexual bribery: soliciting sexual activity or sexually related behaviour by promise of reward.

4) Sexual Coercion: coercion of sexual activity or sexually related behaviour by threat of punishment.

5) Sexual Assault: physical assault and/or rape.

The definition of sexual harassment mentioned above indicates many gaps and grey areas under the current law in Macau. If only sexual harassment involving physical contact is a punishable crime, then a plethora of non-physical acts such as seductive behaviour, sexual bribery and sexual coercion can be committed and can be exploited without fear of legal consequences despite these acts having high probability of leading to physical harassment and even sexual assault. Let me be honest here. I would not want to hear others’ sexual fantasies or hear any sexual content directed to my body when I do not want to hear. I would not want anyone to stare at my private parts with dirty looks as if I am a sexual object. I would not want anyone to ask me for sexual favours in exchange for promotion or to retain my job. And certainly, I would not want any of these to happen to anyone working in the industry. To give you a glimpse of the current research studies that I am conducting, my findings indicate serious and alarming sexual harassment issues in our hospitality industry. These research findings will be published in the coming years. To end this short piece, I would suggest, in order to protect our workforce (men and women, young and old) and the public in general, further amendment of the law should be considered by our government and adaptation of international concepts should be considered.