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Chapter 1 - Working without fear: Results of the Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey (2012)

Discrimination Sex Discrimination
Friday 14 December, 2012

Working without fear:

Results of the Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey



Community Guide

In 2012, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted its third national
telephone survey on sexual harassment.

The survey is important because it provides the only national and trend data
on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

The survey examined the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment
in Australian workplaces over the past five years. It also analysed related
trends across the lifetime of the survey, comparing the results of the 2012
National Survey with previous surveys conducted by the Commission in 2003 and
2008.

Two thousand and two people (15+ years) were interviewed for the survey.
Participants were representative of the Australian population in terms of age,
sex and area of residence.

An additional 1,000 people were interviewed from the Australian Defence
Force, as part of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s Review into the
Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force Academy and Australian
Defence Force. The simultaneous administration of the 2012 National Survey and
the Australian Defence Force Survey allowed for comparisons to be made between
the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian
workplaces in general and the Australian Defence Force workplace in
particular.

How widespread is sexual harassment?

Lifetime prevalence

Just over one in five people (21%) in Australia has been sexually harassed
since the age of 15 (based on the legal definition of sexual harassment), a
small increase since 2008 (20%). A majority (68%) of those people were harassed
in the workplace.

Sexual harassment continues to affect more women than men. One-third of women
(33%) have been sexually harassed since the age of 15, compared to fewer than
one in ten men (9%). This is consistent with the findings of the 2008 National
Survey (32% of women; 8% of men).

What is sexual harassment?

Cover Image - Working without fear

Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that a reasonable
person would anticipate could make the person harassed feel offended, humiliated
or intimidated.

Sexual harassment can take many different forms, both physical and
non-physical, and can occur through a variety of mediums (eg in person, via
email and texts, and through social media).

Behaviours that are likely to be characterised as sexual harassment include
indecent exposure, comments or jokes of a sexual nature, sexual propositions,
sending sexually explicit texts and asking intrusive questions about a
person’s private life.

Some types of behaviour, such as sexual assault or rape, may constitute a
criminal offence, in addition to constituting sexual harassment.

It is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) for a
person to sexually harass another person in a number of areas of public life,
including employment, education and the provision of goods, services and
facilities. Sexual harassment is also unlawful under state and territory
anti-discrimination laws.

Workplace prevalence

Woman at desk, using laptop

Just over one in five (21%) people over the age of 15 years experienced
sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years (based on the legal
and behavioural definitions of sexual harassment). A quarter of women (25%) and
one in six men (16%) aged 15 years and older have experienced sexual harassment
in the workplace in the past five years.

 

21% of people over the age of 15 years experienced sexual harassment in the
workplace in the past five years

 

 

 

Who are the targets of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment affects a broad range of individuals across a broad
spectrum of occupations, workplaces and industries. However, it is a particular
problem for certain groups of employees.

The 2012 National Survey found that targets of workplace sexual harassment
are most likely to be women. Five in eight (62%) targets were women, compared to
only three in eight (38%) men. It also found that the majority (64%) of targets
were less than 40 years of age, with targets most likely to be harassed between
the ages of 18 to 24 years.

Being harassed by a person of the same sex is much more common for men (61%)
than for women (10%). Men harassing men accounted for nearly a quarter (23%) of
harassment.

Sexual harassment affects a broad range of individuals but targets are most
likely to be women and young adults

 

Who are the harassers?

The vast majority of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces over the past
five years was perpetrated by male co-workers between the ages of 31 and 50
years, though women were at least five times more likely than men to have been
harassed by a boss or an employer.

The 2012 National Survey found that four out of five (79%) harassers were
men, a small decrease from 2008 (81%). Most women (90%) said that they were
harassed by a man.

Four out of five (79%) harassers in the workplace in the past five years
were men

How do targets usually respond to sexual
harassment?

Although sexual harassment is common in Australian workplaces, only a small
proportion of people who were harassed in the workplace during the past five
years made a formal report or complaint or sought support or advice about sexual
harassment.

Only one in five (20%) respondents who were sexually harassed in the
workplace in the past five years made a formal report or complaint, a small
increase in the rate of reporting from 2008 (16%). One-third (29%) of
respondents sought support or advice, almost the same as in 2008 (30%).

What are the outcomes of formally reporting sexual
harassment?

Officeworkers at meeting

There were a range of different outcomes for targets who formally reported
sexual harassment.

Almost half (45%) of respondents indicated that the sexual harassment
stopped, which shows that reporting can be an effective way to stop sexual
harassment.

However, an increasing number of targets experienced negative consequences as
a result of reporting sexual harassment. Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents
who reported sexual harassment indicated that their complaint had a negative
impact on them (eg victimisation, demotion). This is an increase from 2008 (22%)
and 2003 (16%) and points to the need to put in place appropriate mechanisms to
protect against such negative consequences.

 

What role do bystanders play in addressing sexual
harassment?

Sexual harassment does not only affect targets. It can also affect
‘bystanders’ – individuals who have witnessed sexual
harassment firsthand or heard about it later.

The 2012 National Survey found that thirteen per cent (13%) of the Australian
population over the age of 15 years were bystanders in the past five years,
similar to in 2003 (14%) and 2008 (12%).

Bystanders can play an important role in addressing sexual harassment in
Australian workplaces. They can help to raise awareness about sexual harassment
and they can take action to prevent and reduce the harm of sexual
harassment.

The 2012 National Survey found that a majority of bystanders (51%) took
action to prevent or reduce the harm of sexual harassment. Bystanders most
commonly talked, listened and offered advice to targets, but many also reported
the harassment to their employer or confronted the harasser directly.

A number of factors may influence whether or not a bystander takes action
following sexual harassment, including whether the bystander witnessed the
harassment firsthand, feels that bystander action is supported by the workplace,
and perceives that the benefits of taking bystander action outweigh the costs.

A majority of bystanders took action to prevent or reduce the harm of
sexual harassment in Australian workplaces

What can be done to ensure that Australian workplaces
are safe and free of sexual harassment?

There have been a number of important developments in Australia since the
first sexual harassment national telephone survey was conducted by the
Commission in 2003. These include the strengthening of legal protections against
sexual harassment and the development and implementation of sexual harassment
policies, procedures and training in many Australian workplaces.

Whilst these developments are important and welcomed, the findings of the
2012 National Survey are clear: putting an end to sexual harassment and ensuring
the safety and security of all employees while at work also requires leadership
and a genuine commitment from government, unions and all sectors of the
Australian workplace.

The 2012 National Survey demonstrated the need for a number of key strategies
to address sexual harassment in the workplace, including:

  • development and implementation of effective prevention strategies, including
    a highly visible community education campaign
  • adoption of measures to improve access to workplace reporting
    mechanisms
  • equipping a diverse range of workplace actors with the knowledge and skills
    necessary to provide effective support and advice to individuals who may have
    experienced, or are experiencing, sexual harassment
  • creation of an enabling environment to encourage and empower bystanders to
    take immediate and effective action to prevent and reduce the harm of sexual
    harassment
  • further industry-based research on sexual harassment.

How can I make a complaint of sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act
to the Australian Human Rights Commission?

For information on sexual harassment and how to make a complaint to the
Australian Human Rights Commission, call our Complaint Info Line on
1300 656
419 (local call) or TTY 1800 620 241 (toll free).

Information about making or responding to a complaint is available at www.humanrights.gov.au

You can make an online complaint by going to
http://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints_information/lodging.html

 

Where can I get further information about the sexual harassment national
telephone survey?

Crowd of people

For further information about the sexual harassment national telephone
survey, see:

Working without Fear: Results of the Sexual Harassment National
Telephone Survey 2012
http://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/publications/

Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force:
Phase 2 Report
(2012) http://humanrights.gov.au/defencereview/index.html

Sexual Harassment: Serious Business; Results of the 2008 Sexual
Harassment National Telephone Survey
(2008) http://humanrights.gov.au/sexualharassment/serious_business/index.html

20 Years On: The Challenges Continue...; Sexual Harassment in the
Australian Workplace
(2004) http://humanrights.gov.au/sex_discrimination/workplace/challenge_continues/data/download.html

For further information about sexual harassment bystanders, see:

Encourage. Support. Act! Bystander Approaches to Sexual Harassment in
the Workplace (2012)
http://humanrights.gov.au/sexualharassment/bystander/index.html

 

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