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Reason to be hopeful about changes in attitudes on sexual harassment

Commission Commission – General

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says she hopes the recent shining of light on sexual harassment signifies the beginning of the end of a culture which both permits these behaviours to occur and prevents victims from speaking out.

Commissioner Jenkins delivered the keynote address at the Women in Film and TV NSW - Safer Workplaces Strategies forum this week and spoke about the recent avalanche of allegations of workplace sexual harassment and the #metoo movement.

“I think that this point in time gives us some reasons to hope. While it is confronting to come to terms with these ugly realities about our society, this has been a long time coming and it does feel like something of a turning point,” she said.

Commissioner Jenkins acknowledged those who have experienced sexual harassment and vowed to continue working for change.

“As Sex Discrimination Commissioner I am determined to use my platform to advocate for change, in the hope that we can prevent these behaviours from occurring in the future,” she said.

In the last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission received close to 250 complaints of sexual harassment.

“Although the majority of complaints we receive are conciliated successfully, we know that these 247 complaints are barely the tip of the iceberg.

“We also know that, despite recent allegations being focussed on high profile industries such as politics, entertainment and media, sexual harassment occurs across all industries,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

In 2012, a survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission into workplace sexual harassment indicated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men had been sexually harassed in the workplace in the past 5 years

And recently the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey conducted earlier this year found that:

  • One in two women and one in four men had experienced sexual harassment during their lifetime (in any context, including work).
  • One in six women and one in eleven men experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months.

The Australian Human Rights Commission will be conducting its fourth National Workplace Sexual Harassment survey in 2018.

Commissioner Jenkins said a key part of preventing sexual harassment is greater awareness of what drives that sort of behaviour.

“Research has shown that gender inequality and community attitudes about women and their role in society contribute significantly to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women.

“Gender inequality is the result of the unequal power distribution between men and women, and is reinforced by gender discrimination and structures that perpetuate inequality.

Attitudes which justify, excuse, trivialise, minimise and shift the blame for sexual harassment are called “violence supportive” attitudes. While individuals may not themselves engage in violence or sexual harassment, these attitudes contribute to its prevalence. These attitudes have been common place in the reasons why bystanders have not called out sexual harassment.

Right now, I think the #metoo movement gives us reason to be hopeful. Indeed Time Magazine has remarkably recognised it as “Person of the Year” for 2017.

By giving a voice to victims, I think we are seeing people gain a much better understanding of what sexual harassment is, how commonly it occurs, and of the damage it can do to victims and workplaces.

I also think that this shift is engaging more people in changing the culture to prevent sexual harassment.

I think we are seeing a greater commitment to advancing gender equality, among both men and women. It is becoming clearer to everyone that we still have a long way to go – only last week Andrew Bolt issued an apology to women, acknowledging that more women in leadership roles is what we sorely need – I wholeheartedly agree.

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