Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Sexual Harassment of Newcomers in Elder Care-An Institutional Practice?

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Sexual Harassment of Newcomers in Elder Care-An Institutional Practice?

Article excerpt


Contrary to what one might expect when reading the title of this article, the main issue in the article is not sexual behaviour. The issue we are addressing concerns harassment on the job and the way it is connected to the institution of elder care. Departing from the research question "How is sexual harassment produced and maintained through institutional practices in elder care?" we deploy a theoretical concept of practice-making to look at specific forms of harassment. We inquire how these are made possible and liable to happen by exploring the way the institution works and understands itself and the people inside it.

In Denmark (and the rest of Scandinavia), elder care is part of the universal welfare model, which implies that care is a welfare service (often free of charge) provided on the basis of an individual needs assessment. It is administered partly by the state, and partly by local government. Elder care is provided both in nursing and retirement homes and in private homes. During the last decade, elder care work has undergone a professionalization and today a majority of the professionals within elder care in the Nordic countries are educated as social and health care helpers or assistants from the social and health care education program (Fejes 2011).

Definition of sexual harassment/offensive sexual behaviour

The aim of this article is to understand the institutional mechanisms and processes enabling the incidents to occur, not to measure or characterize the severity of the incidents experienced by the female caregivers. Hence, we deploy the term "sexual harassment" defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" (Grieco 1987). In line with Rospenda et al. (1998) we find inspiration in the organizational, sociocultural, and feminist perspectives on sexual harassment that emphasize power dimensions, thus seeing sexual harassment as a potential expression of power. Power is conceived as inspired by, for example, the works of Michel Foucault (1980a, b). This implies that power is not viewed as hierarchical and stable, but as negotiable and productive.

Contemporary research on the problem of sexual harassment in care work

Sexual harassment in elder care is the object of study in statistical/epidemiological working environment studies as well as in qualitative studies of care work. In the following, we highlight elements of the knowledge production within both approaches in order to present an outline of the extent of the problem and of the way the phenomenon is perceived within qualitative work life studies. The aim is to point to the need of a different approach in work life research which provides us with possibilities to indicate solutions to the problem of sexual harassment in elder care. To identify relevant research we deployed three strategies. First we reread the research of elder care known to us (e.g., Dahl 2000, 2004; Gleerup 2010; Kamp 2011; Liveng 2007; Wrede 2008) looking specifically for findings on sexual harassment. Apart from an article written by ourselves (Krøjer 2013), this resulted in a single finding (Hansen 2006). Secondly, we contacted the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment in order to identify relevant surveys in a Danish and European perspective. This resulted in a number of findings which will be presented here. Thirdly we conducted a systematic literature search using the ISI Web of Knowledge. We searched for topic=(sexual harassment OR sexual abuse OR sexual assault) AND Topic=(care work OR elder* care OR health profession*), five years back. This resulted in 418 findings. Hereafter we added NOT Topic=(child*) thus reducing the result to 195 findings. These findings were examined and articles focusing on elder abuse, immigrant and sex workers, harassment by co-workers, alcohol treatment and professionals in medicine, psychiatry, and social work were discarded. …

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