Skip to main content

Search

Chapter 2 - 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 2: Sexual
harassment national telephone survey 2012

Chapter 2 provides a brief introduction to the 2012 National Survey. It
outlines the objectives of and background to the 2012 National Survey. It also
explains the methodology of the 2012 National Survey and identifies key
methodological differences with previous sexual harassment national telephone
surveys conducted in 2003 and 2008.

2.1 Objectives

The objectives of the sexual harassment national telephone survey were
two-fold. The first objective was to identify the prevalence, nature and
reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces over the past five
years. The second objective was to analyse trends in the prevalence, nature and
reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces across each wave of the
national telephone survey.3

The Commission’s reports on the sexual harassment national telephone
survey provide the only national data on sexual harassment in Australian
workplaces. It is hoped that this data will help to improve awareness of sexual
harassment in Australian workplaces and identify trends in the prevalence,
nature and reporting of sexual harassment during the period covered by the
survey. It is also hoped that this data will help to strengthen the
effectiveness of efforts to ensure that all employees enjoy safe work
environments free of such harassment.

2.2 Background

In 2002, the Commission undertook a review of complaints it had received
under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) concerning sexual harassment
in employment.4 The review found that complaints about sexual
harassment in the workplace accounted for a significant proportion of complaints
under the Act. It also found that sexual harassment presented particular
challenges for women in paid employment.

The 2002 review provided important information about the number, nature and
outcomes of complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace. However, there
remained a significant gap in information concerning those individuals who had
experienced sexual harassment in the workplace but who had not submitted a
complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act.

In 2003, the Commission decided to conduct a national telephone survey on the
prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces
to address this gap. The 2003 National Survey was the first such survey
conducted in Australia and involved telephone interviews with 1,006 individuals
between 18 and
64 years of age, who were representative of the Australian
population in terms of sex, age and area of residence. Key findings of the
survey included that sexual harassment was widespread in Australian workplaces
and only a small proportion of individuals who had been sexually harassed had
made a formal report or complaint about that harassment.

Following the 2003 National Survey, concerning evidence continued to emerge
about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of sexual harassment in Australian
workplaces. For instance, during the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s
Listening Tour, conducted in 2007 and 2008, women and men from across Australia
identified sexual harassment in the workplace as a serious and ongoing
problem.5 Many women and men also highlighted concerns regarding the
general lack of awareness about sexual harassment and employers’ limited
understanding about how to respond effectively to allegations of sexual
harassment.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner subsequently identified the prevention of
sexual harassment as a key priority for her term.6 She also committed
to repeating the national telephone survey, with a view to tracking trends in
the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment.

The second sexual harassment national telephone survey was conducted in 2008.
The survey, which was based on a slightly modified version of the 2003 National
Survey questionnaire, involved interviews with 2,005 individuals, who were aged
between 18 and 64 years and representative of the Australian population in terms
of sex, age and area of residence. The 2008 National Survey found that
sexual harassment continued to be a problem in Australian workplaces, despite
some improvements since 2003. It also found that understanding about sexual
harassment remained limited and targets infrequently reported sexual harassment
to employers or other bodies.

In June 2011, the Commonwealth Government enacted the Sex and Age
Discrimination Legislation Amendment Act 2011
(Cth). The Act made a number
of amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, including strengthening protections
against sexual harassment in workplaces, schools, and in the provision of goods,
services or facilities. It also strengthened protections against sexual
harassment through the use of new technologies. Many of these changes were
recommended in the Commission’s report on the 2008 National Survey.

In 2012, the Commission engaged Roy Morgan Research to conduct its third
sexual harassment national telephone survey. As with previous surveys, the 2012 National Survey investigated the prevalence, nature and reporting of
sexual harassment in Australian workplaces during the past five years. It also
analysed related trends across the different waves of the survey.

The 2012 National Survey, which was based on a slightly amended version of
the 2008 National Survey questionnaire, involved interviews with 2,002
individuals aged 15 years and over, who are representative of the Australian
population in terms of sex, age and area of residence.

The 2012 National Survey involved interviews with an additional 1,000 members
of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), as part of phase two of the Sex
Discrimination Commissioner’s Review into the Treatment of Women in the
Australian Defence Force Academy and Australian Defence Force (Defence Review).
The simultaneous administration of the 2012 National Survey and the Australian Defence Force Survey (ADF Survey) allowed for comparisons to
be made between sexual harassment in Australian workplaces in general and the
ADF workplace in particular.

The results of the 2012 National Survey are outlined in detail in this
report. The results of the ADF Survey, together with a comparative analysis of
key findings of the 2012 National Survey, are available in the Defence Review
report, which was published earlier this year.7

Importantly, the results of the 2012 National Survey identify trends in the
prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment across each wave of the
survey, notwithstanding the minor modifications made to the survey
questionnaire.

2.3 Methodology

Two thousand and two people aged 15 years and over were interviewed for the
2012 National Survey. This was the first survey to include young people (15 to
17 years) and older persons (65+ years). A quota sample was used to ensure that
participants were representative of the Australian population in terms of age,
sex and area of residence. The sample was not selected to reflect the Australian
population by occupation, employer size, industry, or employment status
(full-time / part-time).

A number of different approaches were used to recruit individual
participants.

First, individuals with a fixed landline telephone at home (n=1,699) were
recruited through Random Digit Dialling (RDD).

Second, individuals with a mobile telephone only (n=300) were recruited
through Roy Morgan Research’s Single Source Database (SSD).8 Both RDD and SSD were used to maximise the participation of individuals in the
increasing number of households without a landline connection.

Third, to ensure a representative sample of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples, the Commission supplemented the above approaches by promoting
the survey through the National Congress of Australia’s First People and
the Commission’s own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
networks.9
A total of 46 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples participated in the 2012 National Survey, including three individuals
who self-nominated through the third approach described above. This proportion
is representative of the actual distribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples in the general population, aged
15 years and
over.10

The interviews were conducted using the Computer Assisted Telephone Interview
(CATI) approach. This approach was used first in 2003 and again in 2008 as an
efficient and effective way to interview a large sample of individuals about a
sensitive topic. Using this survey methodology for the 2012 National Survey also
had the advantage of ensuring that any changes in results can be attributed to
factors such as changes in attitude, behaviour and understanding of sexual
harassment, rather than non-sample error arising from different survey
methodologies.

The interviews were conducted using the 2012 National Survey questionnaire
(see Appendix 1), which was based on a modified version of the 2008 National
Survey questionnaire. Amendments to the survey questionnaire were required in
2012 to accommodate changes to the definition and legal regulation of sexual
harassment, since the last survey was conducted. Further changes were made to
enhance the effectiveness of the survey questionnaire and increase the
representation of a broad cross-section section of the community (eg young and
older persons). A number of new questions were incorporated into the survey,
including questions concerning the medium to long-term consequences of sexual
harassment for targets, the presence of repeat and multiple harassers in the
workplace (from the perspective of those who have been harassed), and the
consequences for bystanders of taking action after witnessing or learning about
sexual harassment.

The number and scope of changes to the survey questionnaire were limited,
however, so as not to undermine the analysis of trend data across each of the
different waves of the survey. In addition, a small pilot of the survey was
conducted to test the amendments to the survey questionnaire.

The interviews for the 2012 National Survey were conducted by female
interviewers because of the gendered nature of sexual harassment in Australian
workplaces. Male interviewers were also made available in the event that an
interviewee indicated that he or she did not feel comfortable being interviewed
about sexual harassment by a woman.

As explained previously, the 2012 National Survey was the first survey to
include young people (15 to 17 years). Young people were interviewed only if a
parent or guardian granted them permission to participate in the survey. Parents
and guardians were given the option to be present during the interview, but were
asked not to influence the answers of the participant, either directly or
indirectly. The need for parental permission may have resulted in a possible
sampling bias.

The limitations of the CATI approach have been noted in the reports of the
2003 and 2008 National Surveys.11 These include that the sample of
people interviewed may not adequately represent individuals from culturally and
linguistically diverse backgrounds, individuals who are unable to communicate
via the telephone due to a disability, and individuals from lower socio-economic
backgrounds.

Another potential limitation of the CATI approach is under-representation of
individuals without a landline telephone in their home. The ongoing shift from
(almost) universal access to landline telephones in the home to an increasing
dependency on mobile telephones and the Internet amongst core sectors of the
Australian workforce means that consideration needs to be given to the continued
appropriateness of the CATI methodology for future waves of the sexual
harassment national telephone survey.

The 2012 National Survey provided an important opportunity to investigate the
merits of migrating from the CATI approach to an approach that utilises Computer
Assisted Web Interview (CAWI). Significantly, it provided an opportunity to
understand what, if any, impact a change in methodology might have on the
results of the survey and the ability to track trends in the prevalence, nature
and reporting of sexual harassment across the different waves of the survey.

A parallel study was therefore conducted in 2012 using the CAWI approach
(CAWI Survey), which was in addition to the 2012 National Survey and the ADF
Survey, described above. The CAWI Survey utilised the 2012 National
Survey questionnaire, with slight modifications to ensure suitability for the
online format. The CAWI Survey involved interviews with 480 individuals, who, as
in the case of the 2012 National Survey, were representative of the Australian
population in terms of sex, age and area of residence.

The Commission is currently reviewing the findings of the CAWI Survey, which
are not reported here, and will make a determination regarding the most
appropriate survey methodology before the next sexual harassment national survey
is conducted in three to five years’ time.

2.4 Reading and
interpreting the report

(a) Interpreting the data from different survey
waves

When reading and interpreting this report, it is important to note that there
are slight differences in the measures of prevalence of sexual harassment in the
workplace in the past five years used across the different waves of the national
telephone survey.

In the 2012 National Survey, the measure of prevalence of sexual harassment
in the workplace in the past five years includes respondents who reported that
they had:
(1) been sexually harassed based on the legal definition of sexual
harassment (legal definition); and (2) experienced one or more behaviours
that are likely to constitute sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act (behavioural definition). This combined approach was expected to yield
the most realistic incidence of sexual harassment.

In 2003 and 2008, the measure of prevalence of sexual harassment in the
workplace in the past five years included respondents who reported sexual
harassment based on the legal definition only. In the 2008 National Survey,
respondents were also asked whether they had experienced one or more sexual
harassment behaviours in the workplace that are likely to constitute sexual
harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act. The prevalence of sexual harassment
based on the behavioural definition was not combined with the prevalence of
sexual harassment based on the legal definition to determine an overall
prevalence. However, data gathered using the behavioural definition was combined
with data gathered using the legal definition when analysing other parts of the
2008 data (eg nature and characteristics of sexual harassment).

Summary of definitions used according to wave and type of
findings being reported
Findings reported
2003
2008
2012
Prevalence (in the workplace in past five years)
Legal definition only
Legal definition only
(behaviours reported separately)
Legal and behavioural definitions
Nature and characteristics
Legal definition only
Legal and behavioural definitions
Legal and behavioural definitions
Prevention and response
Legal definition only
Legal and behavioural definitions
Legal and behavioural definitions

 

The different approaches to calculating the prevalence of sexual harassment
in the workplace in the past five years limits the extent to which the
prevalence data can be compared across each wave of the survey. Fuller
comparisons of prevalence based on both legal and behavioural definitions will
be available in future waves of the survey.

Any omission of comparisons in this report between the results of the 2012
National Survey and the 2003 and 2008 National Surveys may be because:

  • comparison across different waves of the survey is not meaningful due to the
    change in the calculation of prevalence
  • new questions were asked in the 2012 National Survey that were not asked in
    previous surveys
  • the data from previous surveys is inaccessible or incomplete.

(b) Interpreting the data with an expanded age
range

As part of the 2012 National Survey, interviews were conducted with
individuals aged 15 years and over. In contrast, the 2003 and 2008 National
Surveys were limited to individuals aged between 18 to 64 years of age. To
determine what, if any, impact the expanded age range had on the survey results,
2012 data for all age groups was compared with the same data for the 18 to 64
year old age group.

The comparative analysis showed that the expansion of the age range in the
2012 National Survey had virtually no impact on the data, except in the areas of
employment and age. Figures related to employment are generally lower for the
group that includes all age groups. For example, the figure for the total number
of people who experienced sexual harassment at work is 68% for the group
including all ages, and 71% for the group excluding the 15 to 17 and 65 and over
age groups.

The differences in data concerning employment and age are to be expected
because there are fewer individuals in the 15 to 17 and 65 and over age groups
in the workplace. Where the inclusion of the two new age groups may have had an
impact on comparison with previous waves of the survey, it is noted in the
report.

(c) Reading the graphs

The values presented throughout the report have been rounded to zero decimal
points (with the exception of those values between 0% and 1%). This means that
some of the bars featured in the figures / graphs may not appear equal, even
though they are shown as having the same value. For example, two bars on the
same graph may be labelled as 5% but appear to be different lengths because one
may represent an actual value of 4.5%, while the other may represent a value of
5.4%. Both have been legitimately rounded to 5%.

Unless otherwise stated, the results reported in the figures / graphs (and in
other parts of the report) refer to the 2012 National Survey.

^Top