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Chapter 4 - 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
4: Prevalence

Chapter 4 examines the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australia. It
begins by identifying the prevalence of sexual harassment across
individuals’ lifetime and then focuses on the prevalence of sexual
harassment in Australian workplaces in the past five years. It also measures
understanding of sexual harassment and awareness of sexual harassment incidents
involving other people in the workplace.

Key findings
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 have 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.

In order to determine prevalence, respondents were read a simplified version
of the legal definition of sexual harassment (see section 3.1) and asked to
disclose whether or not they had experienced such harassment.

Respondents who indicated that they had been sexually harassed in the
workplace during the past five years were read a list of behaviours likely to
constitute unlawful sexual harassment and asked to disclose which of the
behaviours they had experienced.

Respondents who reported that they had not been sexually harassed were also
asked to indicate whether or not they had experienced any of the specified
behaviours. This was to ensure that the prevalence rate captured those
respondents who have been subjected to behaviour likely to constitute unlawful
sexual harassment, but who may not consider their experiences to be harassment
based on the legal definition.

As explained in section 2.4(a) above, there have been slight changes across
the different waves of the national telephone survey in how prevalence of sexual
harassment in the workplace has been calculated. Care should therefore be
exercised when comparing the prevalence data in chapter 4 with the prevalence
data reported in previous surveys.

4.1 Lifetime

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). This
represents a slight increase in the lifetime prevalence of sexual harassment
since the last survey was conducted in 2008 (20%),18 indicating that
sexual harassment is an ongoing and common occurrence.

Women (33%) were significantly more likely than men (9%) to be sexually
harassed in their lifetime, continuing the trend from 2008 (32% of women and 8%
of men).

Figure 1: Prevalence of
lifetime sexual harassment (legal definition) (by survey wave)
Figure 1: Prevalence of lifetime sexual harassment (legal definition) (by survey wave)
Base: 2012: All respondents (n=2,002); men (n=966); female (n=1,036)

 

A majority (68%) of those respondents who had been sexually harassed said the
harassment occurred in the workplace, a slight increase from 2003 (65%) and 2008
(65%). Women (72%) were more likely than men (51%) to be sexually harassed in
the workplace.

A small proportion of respondents said they had been sexually harassed in an
educational institution (7%) or in the provision of goods and services (5%).
Almost one in five (19%) respondents said the harassment occurred
‘elsewhere’ (eg at a public venue, on public transport).

4.2 Workplaces in the past
five years

Approximately one in five (21%) people aged 15 years and older has
experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years (based on
both the legal and behavioural definitions of sexual harassment). Women (25%)
were much more likely than men (16%) to be sexually harassed in the workplace
during this period.

Figure 2: Prevalence of
sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years

(legal and
behavioural definitions) (by sex)
Figure 2: Prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years
Base: All respondents (n=2,002); men (n=966); female (n=1,036)

 

The 2008 National Survey found that 4% of the population had experienced
sexual harassment in the workplace during the preceding five year period, based
on the legal definition. In addition, it found that 22% of respondents had
experienced behaviours likely to constitute unlawful sexual harassment, even
though they reported that they had not been sexually harassed after being read
the legal definition. These results were not combined, however, preventing a
direct comparison of prevalence with the results of the 2012 National Survey, as
reported above.19

It is possible, though, to compare the prevalence data for the 2008 National
Survey with the stand-alone data for the legal and behavioural definitions for
the 2012 National Survey. The 2012 National Survey found that 3% of the
population had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace during the past
five years, based on the legal definition. Additionally, 18% of respondents had
experienced sexual harassment behaviours.

Sexual harassment prevalence
2012
2008
2003
Legal and behavioural definitions
21%
N/A
N/A
Legal definition only
3%
4%
11%
Behavioural definition only
18%
22%
N/A

Whilst these stand-alone results suggest that there has been a slight
decrease in the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace in the past
five years, they also indicate that there has been limited progress in reducing
rates of sexual harassment in workplaces across Australia.

4.3 Understanding of sexual
harassment

Respondents who said they had not been sexually harassed based on the legal
definition in the Sex Discrimination Act were asked whether they had experienced
specified behaviours that are likely to constitute unlawful sexual harassment.
These behaviours included inappropriate staring or leering, sexually suggestive
comments or jokes, sexually explicit emails or text messages, and requests or
pressure for sex or other sexual acts (see section 5.1).

In addition to ensuring an accurate incidence of sexual harassment, this
approach was adopted to ensure that understanding of sexual harassment could be
measured.

Of those respondents who said they had not been sexually harassed based on
the legal definition, 18% went on to report experiencing one or more behaviours that are likely to constitute sexual harassment under the Sex
Discrimination Act.

There has been only a slight improvement in awareness of what constitutes
sexual harassment under the Act since the 2008 National Survey, when 22% of
respondents who said they had not been sexually harassed based on the legal
definition went on to report experiencing behaviours that are likely to
constitute sexual harassment.20 This suggests a need for better
community education about sexual harassment and the right not to be sexually
harassed, including in the workplace.

Awareness of what constitutes sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination
Act was slightly higher amongst men, with fewer men (15%) than women (21%)
reporting sexual harassment behaviours after stating that they had not been
sexually harassed when the legal definition of sexual harassment was read to
them.

Figure 3: Prevalence of
sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years (behavioural
definition) (by sex)
Figure 3: Prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years (behavioural definition) (by sex)
Base: Respondents who did not report experiencing sexual harassment in the
workplace after being read the legal definition (n=1,931); men (n=953); women
(n=978)

 

4.4 Bystanders

In addition to identifying the prevalence of sexual harassment in the
workplace in the past five years, the 2012 National Survey measured
‘bystander’ prevalence in the workplace.

Who are bystanders?21
A bystander is a person who observes sexual harassment in the workplace
firsthand or hears about it subsequently.

 

In the 2012 National Survey, the definition of bystanders included
individuals who witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace firsthand as well
as individuals who were informed about sexual harassment subsequently. In
contrast, the definition of ‘bystander’ was limited in the 2003 and
2008 National Surveys to individuals who witnessed sexual harassment in the
workplace firsthand.

The decision to use a more inclusive definition in the 2012 National Survey
was motivated by a concern to identify the overall number of individuals
affected by sexual harassment in the workplace. The decision was also based on
recent research conducted by the Commission on bystander approaches to sexual
harassment in the workplace.22

  • The hidden nature of sexual harassment may mean that individuals are more
    likely to hear about sexual harassment, rather than witness it firsthand.
    A
    more inclusive definition that encompasses bystanders who hear about
    sexual harassment is therefore important to measuring accurately the number of
    bystanders who are affected by sexual harassment.
  • Research suggests that individuals often fail to distinguish their personal
    observations from the suggestions of others.
  • Sexual harassment can have negative consequences for bystanders, regardless
    of how they come to know about the harassment.
  • A hostile work environment can be caused both by witnessing and hearing
    about sexual harassment, in addition to experiencing harassment personally.
  • As a majority of bystanders take some form of action to prevent or reduce
    the harm of sexual harassment (see section 6.4), accurately measuring the
    prevalence of bystanders is important to empowering them to take action and
    enlisting their assistance effectively.

It is difficult to say
whether the prevalence of bystanders would have been higher in in the 2003 and
2008 National Surveys if respondents had been asked whether or not they had
heard about sexual harassment in the workplace. However, similarities between
the findings of the current and previous surveys regarding bystanders (see
below) could mean that bystander prevalence is in fact lower in the 2012
National Survey given that it includes witnessing and hearing about sexual
harassment.

All respondents, regardless of whether or not they reported experiencing
sexual harassment, were asked if they were aware of individuals who had been
sexually harassed in their current workplace in the past five years.

Thirteen per cent (13%) of respondents said that they were aware of others
who had been sexually harassed in their current workplace.

This is almost the same as in 2008 (12%) and 2003 (14%).

Figure 4: Prevalence of
bystanders in the workplace in the past five years

(by survey
wave)
Figure 4: Prevalence of bystanders in the workplace in the past five years
Base: 2012: All respondents (n=2,002)

 

Respondents who indicated that they had been sexually harassed in the
workplace in the past five years (ie targets) were also asked if they were aware
of anyone else who had been harassed in their workplace during that time.

Nearly half (45%) of those respondents said they were aware of someone else
who had been sexually harassed in the same workplace. This represents a small
decrease from 2008 (47%), which followed a larger decrease from the 2003 (58%).
The higher awareness of sexual harassment of others in the workplace among
targets of sexual harassment could be a result of targets becoming aware of
others who have been sexually harassed when they seek support or advice from
co-workers.

Women (46%) and men (44%) reported similar levels of awareness of sexual
harassment of others in their workplace in the 2012 National Survey.

In addition to calculating bystander prevalence, those respondents who had
been sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years (ie targets) and
were aware of someone else who had been sexually harassed in the same workplace
were asked to identify how common sexual harassment was in the workplace at the
time they were harassed.

The majority (71%) of those respondents said sexual harassment was common or
that it occurred sometimes in their workplace. Men (73%) were slightly more
likely than women (70%) to say sexual harassment was common.

Figure 5: Perceived frequency
of sexual harassment (by sex)
Figure 5: Perceived frequency of sexual harassment (by sex)

 

Bases: Respondents aware of someone else being sexually harassed in the
same workplace where they had experienced sexual harassment (n=190); men (n=68);
women (n=122)

 

4.5 Conclusion

The 2012 National Survey provides clear evidence that there has been little
progress over the past five years in reducing the prevalence of sexual
harassment in Australia. Compounding this concern are the findings that a number
of people are bystanders to incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, and
understanding about sexual harassment remains limited, with only marginal
improvements in understanding since the 2008 National Survey.

The 2012 National Survey does not provide clear reasons as to why progress
has stalled. What is clear, however, is that there is a real need for leadership
and a genuine commitment from government, unions and all sectors of the
Australian workforce to prevent sexual harassment and ensure the safety and
security of all employees while at work.

Without immediate and meaningful progress in this area, there will continue
to be significant physical, mental and socio-economic costs for targets and
bystanders of sexual harassment. These costs will, in turn, continue to pose
significant risks for business, including in the form of productivity losses or
costs resulting from employee turnover, reduced morale and absenteeism and
potential legal action, injury to reputation and loss of shareholder
confidence.

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 must 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 rights of employees not to be subjected to such treatment, particularly in
the workplace.

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