Countries, and unions worldwide, such as the United States of America , India , African Union , Philippines , and European Union , considered occurrences such as any unwanted verbal, non-verbal, or physical behaviour with the intent or effect of violating the person’s sexual dignity, in particular, the occurrence of an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating/offensive environment is workplace sexual harassment (WSH). As we do in the current paper, it was also widely defined as sexual assault, rape attempts, and rape . In short, WSH is a condition of an unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours, or hostile verbal or physical action that harms one’s job performance or employment [7, 8]. Currently, the literature provides convincing evidence for the persistence and pervasiveness of WSH [8,9,10,11]. Evidence also indicates that WSH against women could have overwhelming effects on their safety, health, well-being, and, ultimately, their work [8, 12]. The consequences of WSH are summarised as emotional, psychological, professional, and health-related [8, 13], which incur costs globally, and significant costs in low and middle-income countries . Decrements in risk among vulnerable individuals require well-established social assets, including social networks and tailored reproductive health knowledge .
One of the embodiments of WSH is the hospitality workplace [10,11,12]. Given the increasing number of hospitality industries and more women’s enrolment than men’s, there is a growing concern that WSH may increase the prevalence and severity of its impacts . Though it could affect women everywhere, those working in the hospitality industry are the most vulnerable, unorganised (female, young, and minorities) with income insecurity which emphasises their dependency on supervisors, managers, and customers . However, due to differences in perception, experience, and coping strategies based on gender, context, and ideology, it is still a debatable and unsettled issue worldwide, particularly in low and middle-income countries [8, 17].
The WSH could be caused by the structure, manager, beliefs, and norms in the hospitality workplace . The structural causes are either related to the structure of the hospitality workplace or its employment. On the other hand, managerial causes could be either from seeing violent behaviour as an acceptable managerial practice or perceiving WSH due to failed management and weak leadership. Furthermore, universal norms and beliefs of the hospitality workplaces include the belief in aggressive behaviours as part of the job in the hospitality industry; the belief that staff should obey guests’ wishes (‘the customer is always right’ norm), and the belief that the manners of customers are acceptable and should be tolerated . These causes, brokers’ involvement in the perpetrators’ group, and employee engagement in transactional sex practice made the issue worse than ever. Consequently, WSH harms organisations and individuals.
Although all individuals (i.e., employees, supervisors, customers, and witnesses) could be affected, the effect is worse among victims (employees) . The effects include feelings ranging from embarrassment and anger to disgust, adverse feelings about work, and feeling cheap. It also affects an individual’s employment (regarding security and promotions) and interferes with an individual’s work performance, interpersonal well-being, and interpersonal relations due to significant psychological upset . Studies have revealed a link between WSH and women’s psychology, such as post-traumatic stress symptoms and other mental health aspects [20,21,22,23,24,25]. Victims of sexual harassment face both immediate and chronic psychological consequences [26, 27]. The immediate psychological effects are shock, denial, fear, confusion, anxiety, withdrawal, shame/guilt, nervousness, distrust of others, and disorder symptoms such as emotional detachment, sleep disturbances, flashbacks, and mental replay of assault [28, 29]. The chronic psychological consequences are depression, generalised anxiety, suicide (attempted or completed), post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, diminished interest/avoidance of sex, and low self-esteem/self-blame. Certain aspects of WSH’s organisational climate and appraisal were also significant predictors of psychological symptoms . This creates an offensive work environment, especially for women. At the firm level, the individual’s consequences for employees led to higher absenteeism, increased staff turnover, reduced productivity, poor industrial relations, a growing number of complaints and litigation, and poor public relations . From a sector perspective, the high rates of violence and harassment create a sexualised and risky image for the working environment and deter potential workers who cannot tolerate these behaviours .
Given the ubiquity, multidirectional cause, and multiple and all-rounded effects of sexual harassment, the ways victims respond/cope were different . The difference in responding/coping starts with the difference in definitions. Some define coping as attempts to neutralise stress or as an action that protects people from being psychologically or emotionally harmed . Others characterise coping as a critical component of adaptation and survival that describes how humans recognise, assess, cope with, and learn from stressful situations . Others also define coping strategies as psychological patterns that people adopt to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours as they go through different stages of illness and therapy .
Consequently, coping strategies are numerous and varied as the stressors that precede them . Accepting the situation or one’s role in it, active coping aimed at removing the stressor or oneself from the stressor, anticipatory coping aimed at an expected but uncontrollable event, avoiding/escaping the stressor or associated feelings of distress, denying the problem or feelings, disengaging mentally or behaviorally (giving up), and distancing/detaching from the situation or one’s role in it are just a few examples [37, 38]. It also includes interpreting the stressor as a positive or growth-oriented experience, seeking social support, controlling one’s emotions or waiting for the right time to act, using substances to dull feelings, suppressing competing activities until the problem subsides, turning to religion, using humour, and venting emotions [36,37,38]. Coping strategies were also grouped based on function (problem-focused, emotion-focused, dysfunctional coping) , the direction of response concerning the threat (approach coping and avoidance coping) , orientation (task-oriented, emotion-oriented, and avoidance-oriented) [41, 42], and comprehensively as voluntary coping vs involuntary coping, engagement vs disengagement coping, and primary control coping vs secondary control coping strategies . Recently, as coping models/strategies have become more elaborated, coping research is continuously moving toward the view of coping as a multifaceted process . The choice of specific coping strategies used in response to WSH varied significantly depending on occupational status, gender, climate, harassment severity, and power differential. These strategies could be determined by the personal (occupational status of the target within the organisation, race, and gender), environmental (the climate of the organisation in which the harassment occurred, the severity of the harassment incident, and the difference in power between the perpetrator and the target), and cognitive (cognition, arousal, and emotional reactions) factors [45, 46]. There are also debates about whether coping is a single act or process . Similarly, studies consider reporting as a last resort [8, 17, 47]. However, though the responses differ based on the severity of the harassment, victim’s ideology, victims’ perception, the work environment, and the type of coping strategy, of all coping strategies, help-seeking has been buffered the effects of workplace sexual harassment on health and work-related outcomes [48, 49], thereby diminishing adverse consequences among victims.
In Ethiopia, despite workplace sexual harassment’s prohibition by the criminal code proclamation number 414/2004 prohibiting SH and prescription of simple imprisonment , it considered a prohibited act of workplace under proclamation number 1156/2019  and contributed 4.1% of the total gross domestic product, and 8.4% of the total employment, WSH in the hospitality workplace was a hidden problem until quite recently. The magnitude of workplace violence was reported only by a few studies among commercial sex workers [51, 52], health care providers [53,54,55], restaurant workers , university students , and female faculty and staff  in limited areas of Ethiopia, and none of these studies recognised employees’ coping strategies. They also centred on communities that received relatively more attention. However, most interventions focus on reducing reproductive health problems such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), unsafe abortion, and unwanted pregnancy, but do not focus on WSH. However, these issues are essential for designing effective WSH prevention programs among women working in hospitality workplaces.
Therefore, this study aimed to understand coping strategies, barriers, and facilitators as a basis for informing the development of data-driven and context-specific coping strategic framework dimensions, which could provide potential WSH prevention pathways among women who have been working in the hospitality workplaces of the urban city administration, in northwestern Ethiopia.