‘Harassment drives out workers’

A new study has revealed sexual harassment is driving workers out of the Cook Islands tourism industry.

The finger is being pointed not only at drunk customers but at suggestive and overly sexualised marketing, the increasingly skimpy costumes worn at cultural shows and tourists’ misunderstanding of traditions like the aravei, or kiss, which Cook Islanders give on greeting.

Cook Islander Lisa Sadaraka has released the findings of research conducted in 2014 as part of her hospitality studies at the Auckland University of Technology.

She said the interviews with 32 men and women across the industry showed an overwhelming lack of awareness about the issue and the need for policies and training as well as a conversation about how the country is trying to attract visitors.

“I felt like I’d opened up Pandora’s box,” Ms Sadaraka said.

“I wasn’t sure what response I was going to get, given the sensitive nature of the research but once one person came forward there were others that came forward and I just had an overwhelming response to the study and I think it indicated to me that this is an issue that is getting brushed under the carpet.”

Ms Sadaraka said of the 21 employees interviewed, only two reported they had not experienced sexual harassment by a customer and those two had little contact with guests.

“I’ve had groping, I’ve had men try and shimmy up to me, coming too close into my personal space. And I’ve had the uncomfortable staring where they’re looking you up and down,” one cafe owner told Ms Sadaraka.

Some workers reported that their bosses encouraged them to play up to the tourists.

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