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Chapter 1: Summary of survey findings - Sexual harassment: Serious business

Sexual harassment: Serious businessSexual harassment: Serious business

Chapter 1: Summary
of survey findings

Contents

1.1 Background
1.2 Key findings
1.3 Recommendations

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1.1 Background

The Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) conducted a national
telephone survey between July and September 2008 to investigate the nature and
extent of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Two thousand and five
telephone interviews were conducted with people aged 18 to
64.[1] The sample of survey
respondents was representative of the Australian population by age, gender and
area of residence. The survey is based on a similar national telephone survey
conducted by the Commission in 2003.

The aims of the survey were to find out:

  • the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces
  • the types of sexual harassment experienced in Australian workplaces
  • the nature of sexual harassment, including characteristics of those who
    experience harassment, characteristics of harassers and characteristics of
    workplaces where harassment occurs
  • how sexual harassment is reported and the outcomes of complaints
  • trends in the nature and extent of sexual harassment in Australia between
    2003 and 2008.

1.2 Key
findings

Sexual harassment continues to be a problem in our workplaces, despite
some improvement since
2003[2]

  • The 2008 survey found that 22% of women and 5% of men aged 18-64 have
    experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in their lifetime, compared to
    28% of women and 7% of men in 2003.
  • Around one in three women in Australia aged 18-64 have experienced sexual
    harassment in their lifetime. The majority of sexual harassment continues to be
    experienced in the workplace (65%).
  • Nearly half of those who have been sexually harassed in the last five years
    report that it has also happened to someone else in the same workplace.
  • Over one in ten Australians have witnessed sexual harassment in the
    workplace in the last five years.
  • 4% of Australians have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
    last five years, compared to 11% in 2003.

There is a lack of understanding about what sexual harassment
is

  • Around one in five (22%) respondents who said they had not experienced ‘sexual
    harassment’[3] then went
    on to report having experienced behaviours that may in fact amount to sexual
    harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). For example:

    • 5% reported behaviour(s) that included physical harassment such as
      unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing, inappropriate physical
      contact, or actual or attempted rape or assault.
    • 10% reported being subject to unwelcome sexually suggestive comments
      or jokes that made them feel offended.
    • 9% reported being subject to unwelcome intrusive questions about
      their private life or physical appearance that made them feel offended.

The large majority of sexual harassment goes
unreported to employers and other bodies

  • The number of people who have formally reported or made a complaint after
    experiencing sexual harassment has significantly decreased over the last five
    years.[4]
  • Only 16% of those who have been sexually harassed in the last five years in
    the workplace formally reported or made a complaint, compared to 32% in 2003.
  • For those who did not make a complaint:
    • 43% did not think it was serious enough
    • 15% were fearful of a negative impact on themselves
    • 21% had a lack of faith in the complaint process
    • 29% took care of the problem themselves.

Sexual harassment includes a range of behaviours,
both physical and non-physical

  • For survey respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the last five
    years:

    • the most common type of sexual harassment reported was unwelcome
      sexually suggestive comments or jokes that made the respondent feel offended
      (56%)
    • around one in three (31%) reported some kind of physical harassment,
      including unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing, inappropriate
      physical contact, or actual or attempted rape or assault
    • around one in five said they were subjected to sexually explicit
      emails or SMS messages
    • women were more likely to experience physical sexual harassment,
      compared to men. 35% of women reported some kind of physical harassment,
      compared to 25% of men.

Sexual harassment is a
problem for all employers – small, medium and large

  • In the 2008 survey, there was an even spread of employer size among those
    who had experienced sexual harassment in the last five years – 39% worked
    for large employers, 30% medium employers and 31% small
    employers.[5] This is a similar
    finding to the 2003 survey.

1.3 Recommendations

The findings of the 2008 national telephone survey bring attention to six key
areas for action to reduce the incidence and impact of sexual harassment. These
are:

  1. Prevention and reporting of sexual harassment
  2. Increasing reporting of sexual harassment
  3. Better legal protection from sexual harassment
  4. Monitoring of sexual harassment
  5. Better support for victims of sexual harassment
  6. Further research on sexual
    harassment

Area for action

 

Recommendations
1. Prevention of sexual harassment
Pre-employment education

  • 1.1 State and territory education departments should introduce targeted
    education programs in secondary schools to increase knowledge and understanding
    of sexual harassment in the workplace, and build skills to enable employees to
    respond to sexual harassment.
These could be:
  • built into curriculae which addresses employment relations,
    including general bullying and harassment, pay and working conditions and/or
    career education
  • built into the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and
    Children’s school program on respectful relationships.

Employer education on responsibilities and liability

  • 1.2 The Australian Human Rights Commission should update and promote Effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of
    Practice for Employers
    , for employers and human resource professionals to
    increase knowledge of best practice sexual harassment prevention and response
    frameworks.
  • 1.3 Employer groups and associations should promote the Effectively
    preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of Practice for Employers
    amongst their membership.

Employer policies and training

  • 1.4 Employers should comply with the Commission’s, Effectively
    preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of Practice for Employers
    with particular reference to:

    • developing and implementing a formal sexual harassment policy
    • providing regular training to employees
    • monitoring the incidence of sexual harassment and reviewing the
      effectiveness of policies through regular workplace audits.
  • 1.5 The Australian Government should fund the Australian Human Rights
    Commission to work with relevant Australian Government agencies and small
    business representative groups to develop and promote the use of specific sexual
    harassment training guidelines for small business.
Sharing knowledge of good practice in sexual harassment
prevention

  • 1.6 The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency should keep an
    online database of good practice sexual harassment policies, prevention programs
    and practices for sharing amongst employers.
2. Reporting of sexual harassment
Reporting of sexual harassment in the workplace

  • 2.1 Every employer – small, medium and large - should have a sexual
    harassment complaints procedure readily accessible to employees, as set out in
    the Commission’s Effectively preventing and responding to sexual
    harassment: A Code of Practice for Employers.
Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission

  • 2.2 The Australian Government should increase funding to ensure the
    Australian Human Rights Commission is adequately resourced to (i) continue to
    provide information to ensure people understand the law and rights and
    responsibilities under the law and (ii) ensure the ongoing provision of an
    efficient and effective complaint
    service.[6]
3. Better legal protection from sexual harassment
Senate and Legal Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the
effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) in eliminating
discrimination and promoting gender
equality.[7]

  • 3.1 The Australian Government should adopt the recommendations contained in
    the Australian Human Rights Commission’s submission to the Senate and
    Legal Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) in eliminating discrimination and
    promoting gender equality. In particular the Act should be amended as
    follows:
In Stage One (for immediate introduction)
  • Amend the reasonable person standard in the definition of sexual
    harassment so as to include a reference to the individual circumstances and
    characteristics of the victim.
  • Extend coverage of sexual harassment to better protect workers from
    sexual harassment by customers, clients and other persons with whom they come
    into contact in connection with their employment
  • Extend sexual harassment protection to all students regardless of
    their age. Extend sexual harassment to provide protection to students from all
    staff members and adult students, not just those at their own education
    institution.
In Stage Two (for introduction within three years)
  • Consider enacting a free standing prohibition against sexual
    harassment in public life.
  • Consider imposing a positive duty to avoid sexual harassment.
4. Monitoring of sexual harassment
Monitoring sexual harassment in the workplace

  • 4.1 The Australian Government should fund the Equal Opportunity for Women in
    the Workplace Agency or the Australian Human Rights Commission to develop an
    audit kit to assist employers to monitor the incidence of sexual
    harassment.
National data collection and monitoring

  • 4.2 The Australian Government should fund the Australian Human Rights
    Commission to repeat its national telephone survey every five years in order to
    track trends in the nature and extent of sexual harassment. The survey should
    use questions based on the definition of sexual harassment and questions based
    on specific behaviours to track trends in the level of understanding of sexual
    harassment.
5. Better support for those who experience sexual harassment
Support for employees in the workplace

  • 5.1 Employers should ensure that, where the employer already provides an
    employment assistance program, the employer offers the program to employees who
    have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
Increase capacity of other support services to provide support to
victims of sexual harassment

  • 5.2 Support services such as working women’s centres, women’s
    and men’s counselling services, women’s legal services and sexual
    assault services should be provided specific funding to increase their capacity
    to provide support to victims of sexual harassment.
6. Further research on sexual harassment
6.1 Australian researchers should undertake further research to
examine:

  • (a) Organisational policies and practices which are most effective in
    preventing and responding to sexual harassment.
  • (b) The nature of workplace contexts and cultures where sexual harassment
    occurs.
  • (c) The use, effectiveness, accessibility and experience of workplace and
    external complaints processes in remedying sexual harassment.
  • (d) The experience of sexual harassment among employees of culturally and
    linguistically diverse backgrounds, employees with a disability, Aboriginal and
    Torres Strait Islander employees and gay and lesbian employees.
  • (e) The experience of sexual harassment among employees under the age of
    18.
  • (f) The longer term impacts and outcomes of sexual harassment on victims,
    such as future employment opportunities, and effects on family and peer
    dynamics.

 


References

[1] Please see Appendix A for a
full explanation of the methodology. Individuals under 18 did not qualify for
the national telephone survey as permission from parents or guardians would be
required for their participation.
[2] The incidence of sexual
harassment reported here is based on asking respondents whether they had
personally experienced sexual harassment according to the legal definition.
These figures do not include the incidence of specific sexual harassment
behaviours.
[3] Based on being
provided the definition of sexual harassment from the Sex Discrimination Act
1984
(Cth).
[4] This includes
complaints within workplaces and to external agencies such as the state and
territory equal opportunity commissions and the Australian Human Rights
Commission.
[5] For the purposes of
this survey, large employers are defined as more than 100 employees, medium
employers are 26-100 employees and small employers are less than 25 employees.
However, it should be noted that the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines
small employers as having 1-19 employees, medium employers as having 20 –
199 employees and large employers as having over 200
employees.
[6] This was recommended
in the Commissions submission to the Senate and Legal Constitutional Affairs
Committee Inquiry into the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act
1984
(Cth) in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality
(Recommendation 39).
[7] The full
submission can be found at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/legal/submissions/2008/20080901_SDA.html#3