Helsinki (31.07.2011 - Juhani Artto) The case against ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's brings to light the risk of sexual harassment chambermaids working in hotels face daily. In Finland, studies conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health have repeatedly documented that sexual harassment is more common in the hotel and catering sector than in any other industry.

Around one tenth of hotel and catering sector employees have experienced sexual harassment at work, the Institute's studies claim.

Amongst hotel chambermaids the problem may be even more prevalent. A clear indication that this is so comes from a recent mini-survey conducted by PAM, the magazine of the Service Union United PAM. The magazine mailed its questionnaire to some 500 organized chambermaids.

Twenty-five per cent replied and twenty per cent of the respondents claimed to have experienced sexual harassment at their places of work in various hotels around the country.

Respondents refer to grabbing of breasts and buttocks, appearing nude in front of the employee and direct suggestions to have sex. Some hotel guests have crossed the line of decent behaviour with sexual innuendo by expressing inappropriate comments on the employee. However, none of the respondents have been victims of rape itself. In a few cases hotel guests have tried to prevent the chambermaid from leaving the room.

Seija Virta, PAM's expert on occupational safety, insists that employers and employees have to apply zero tolerance towards all forms of sexual harassment. The survey makes it apparent that not all hotels and/or hotel chains have clear guidelines for situations where sexual harassment occurs. The survey reinforces the belief that not all cases are reported to employers and shop stewards.

"Some employees are just not willing to report sexual harassment. Others may blame themselves for provoking the hotel guest into behaving in a certain way and feel therefore ashamed." 

"If anybody thinks that sexual harassment belongs to the very nature of the hotel business and something that must be simply endured, this reflects a very wrong attitude", Virta says.