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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



Chapter 1: Executive summary

The Australian Human Rights Commission (Commission) conducted a national
telephone survey between May and August 2012 to investigate the prevalence,
nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces over the past
five years (2012 National Survey). This report outlines the findings of that
survey and compares and contrasts the findings with previous surveys conducted
by the Commission in 2003 (2003 National Survey)1 and 2008 (2008
National Survey).2

A number of positive stories have emerged from the 2012 National Survey.

For instance, where formal reports and complaints of sexual harassment in the
workplace were made, they were resolved quickly (in less than one month) in most
cases and with high or extremely high levels of satisfaction amongst the
majority of complainants. In addition, a majority of individuals who have
witnessed or subsequently learned about sexual harassment in their workplace (ie
bystanders) have taken action to prevent or reduce the harm of the harassment.
In taking such action, they have helped to ensure safe work environments for
themselves and their colleagues.

Overall, however, the 2012 National Survey shows that sexual harassment is a
persistent and pervasive problem in Australian workplaces. It also shows that
limited progress has been made since the Commission conducted its 2008 National
Survey. It is particularly concerning that there has been little reduction in
the prevalence of sexual harassment since the 2008 National Survey.

Although sexual harassment affects a diverse range of individuals across a
broad spectrum of occupations, workplaces and industries, the 2012 National
Survey shows that targets of sexual harassment are most likely to be women and
less than 40 years of age. Consistent with previous surveys, the 2012 National
Survey also shows that the harassers are most likely to be male co-workers,
though women were at least five times more likely than men to have been harassed
by a boss or employer. Men harassing women accounted for more than half (56%) of
all sexual harassment, while male harassment of men accounted for nearly a
quarter (23%) of sexual harassment.

It is also concerning that there has been a significant increase in the
number of people who have experienced negative consequences (eg victimisation)
as a result of making a formal report or complaint of sexual harassment.
Furthermore, understanding and reporting of sexual harassment remain low.

1.1 2012 National Survey
key findings

Prevalence
Sexual harassment is an ongoing and common occurrence, particularly in
workplaces
  • Just over one in five (21%) people in Australia has been sexually harassed
    since the age of 15, based on the legal definition of sexual harassment, a
    slight increase since 2008 (20%). A majority (68%) of those people were harassed
    in the workplace.
  • Just over one in five (21%) people aged 15 years and older has experienced
    sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years, based on the legal
    and behavioural definitions of sexual harassment.
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 (9%) men (based on the legal definition). This
    is consistent with the findings from the 2008 National Survey (women: 32%; men:
    8%).
  • 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
    (based on the legal and behavioural definitions).
Awareness of sexual harassment remains limited
  • Almost one in five (18%) respondents indicated that they had not been
    sexually harassed based on the legal definition, but went on to report
    experiencing behaviours that are likely to constitute unlawful sexual
    harassment. This is slightly lower than in 2008 (22%).
A number
of bystanders are affected by sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Thirteen per cent (13%) of the Australian population aged 15 years and older
    has witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace firsthand or been informed
    about it subsequently.

Nature and characteristics
Sexual harassment consists of a broad range of behaviours and occurs
through

a range of different mediums
  • The most common types of behaviours reported were sexually suggestive
    comments or offensive jokes (55%), intrusive questions (50%) and inappropriate
    staring or leering (31%).
Most sexual harassment was
perpetrated by men against women
  • Nearly four out of five (79%) harassers were men, a slight decrease from
    2008 (81%).
  • Most women (90%) said that their harasser was male.
Men
were more likely than women to perpetrate and be targets of same-sex sexual
harassment
  • Twenty-nine per cent (29%) of sexual harassment was perpetrated by a person
    who is the same sex as the target. The majority of perpetrators of same-sex
    sexual harassment were men, with men comprising four in five (79%) perpetrators
    and women comprising only one in five (21%) perpetrators.
  • Being harassed by someone of the same sex is much more common for men (61%)
    than for women (10%).
Young adults were most affected by sexual
harassment
  • Women and men aged 18 to 24 years were most likely to be sexually harassed
    (21%).
Harassers were most likely to be a co-worker of the
person harassed
  • Harassers were most likely to be a co-worker (52%) of the person harassed,
    followed by their boss or employer (11%) and their supervisor or manager
    (11%).

Prevention and response
The majority of people sexually harassed do not report it or seek
support or advice
  • Only one in five (20%) respondents who were sexually harassed made a formal
    report or complaint, a slight increase in the rate of reporting from 2008
    (16%).
  • One-third (29%) of respondents who were sexually harassed sought support or
    advice, almost the same as in 2008 (30%).
Reporting can be an
effective and efficient way to stop sexual harassment and get other positive
outcomes
  • Almost half (45%) of respondents indicated that the sexual harassment
    stopped after they made a formal report or complaint.
  • The vast majority (74%) of respondents who made a formal report or complaint
    about sexual harassment were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the complaint
    process.
  • The overwhelming proportion (78%) of complaints were finalised in less than
    one month.
More people 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%).
A majority of bystanders took action to prevent or
reduce the harm of sexual harassment
  • Just over half (51%) of respondents took action after witnessing or learning
    about the sexual harassment of another person in their workplace.

 

1.2 Strategies for the
future

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, including amendments in 2011 to the Sex
Discrimination Act 1984
(Cth) to strengthen legal protections against sexual
harassment. In addition, many workplaces have taken proactive steps to prevent
and address sexual harassment, including by developing and implementing sexual
harassment policies, procedures and employee training.

Whilst these developments are important and welcomed by the Commission, the
findings of the 2012 National Survey are clear: real and meaningful change
resulting in workplaces that are safe and free from harassment requires more
than legislative change. It also requires leadership and a genuine commitment
from government, unions and all sectors of the Australian workforce to put an
end to sexual harassment and ensure the safety and security of all employees
while at work.

The 2012 National Survey demonstrates 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.

 

Effective prevention strategies, including a community education
campaign

The 2012 National Survey demonstrates a clear need for
effective prevention strategies to be implemented in Australian workplaces.
Workplace prevention strategies must be framed broadly and incorporate
components on the rights and responsibilities of employees and bystanders. They
could include policies prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, training
on sexual harassment (both upon commencement of employment and on a regular and
ongoing basis), and widespread education about sexual harassment in the
workplace and avenues of redress.

These strategies need to be grounded in a broader and highly visible
community education campaign to improve awareness about sexual harassment and
the right of employees not to be subjected to such treatment, particularly in
the workplace.

Because experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace are extremely
diverse, it is important that prevention strategies target all employees, across
all levels. However, when developing and implementing those strategies, it is
important for employers to consider specific groups who may be more vulnerable
to sexual harassment and those groups of employees who may be more likely to
engage in sexual harassment. Prevention strategies must cover the full range of
behaviours that are likely to constitute unlawful sexual harassment. This
includes sexual harassment that occurs through different mediums (eg in person,
via mobile telephones, through email / the Internet and social media).

Improve access to workplace reporting mechanisms

The low rates
of reporting suggest a need to improve access to reporting mechanisms. This will
require steps to increase awareness within workplaces about the existence and
potential benefits of using internal report and complaint mechanisms to address
sexual harassment. At the same time, there is a need to ensure that appropriate
mechanisms are put in place to protect against the negative consequences that
may be experienced by targets and bystanders when they make a formal report or
complaint about sexual harassment.

Equip workplace actors to provide effective support and
advice

The 2012 National Survey shows that there is a need to ensure
that a diverse range of workplace actors are trained to provide effective
support and advice to individuals who may have experienced, or are experiencing,
sexual harassment.

Encourage and empower bystanders to take action

The 2012
National Survey also shows that there is need to create an enabling environment
to encourage and empower bystanders to take immediate and effective action to
prevent and reduce the harm of sexual harassment. This will require the
development and implementation of a range of strategies, including education and
training on the different forms of bystander involvement, addressing the risks
of victimisation to bystanders (eg in sexual harassment policies) and supporting
bystanders who do take action to prevent or respond to sexual harassment.

Further industry-based research on sexual harassment

Further
research is needed to understand the characteristics of workplaces in which
sexual harassment is most likely to occur. Future waves of the survey should
therefore be expanded to include a specific focus on select industries (eg
financial services, mining and information technology).

There are significant risks for employers in not taking immediate and
concrete action to bring about real and meaningful change resulting in
workplaces that are safe and free from sexual harassment. The most immediate
risks are to the physical and mental integrity of employees, both those who are
sexually harassed (targets) and those who witness or subsequently learn about
sexual harassment in the workplace (bystanders). There are also significant
risks for business, including productivity losses or costs resulting from
employee turnover, reduced morale and absenteeism, as well as potential legal
action, injury to reputation and loss of shareholder confidence, as seen in
recent high profile cases.

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