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Chapter 5 - 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 5: Nature
and characteristics

Chapter 5 examines the nature and characteristics of sexual harassment in
Australian workplaces over the past five years. It analyses the type and
duration of sexual harassment and the impact of sexual harassment on people
harassed. It also identifies common characteristics of targets and harassers (eg
sex, age) as well as the characteristics of workplaces where sexual harassment
was reported.

Key findings
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%).

 

5.1 Nature of sexual
harassment

Sexual harassment consists of a broad range of behaviours, physical and
non-physical, and occurs through a variety of different mediums (eg in person,
through social media). In addition, it may be a one-off incident or consist of a
course of behaviour and it may affect the people harassed in different ways.

Notwithstanding the different experiences of individual targets of sexual
harassment, the 2012 National Survey shows that the most common types of sexual
harassment behaviours are sexually suggestive comments or jokes, intrusive
questions about one’s private life or physical appearance, and
inappropriate staring or leering. It also shows that sexual harassment is more
likely to be a one-off incident or to occur over a short period of time, rather
than to take place over a sustained period. Further, the more offended or
intimidated a person feels when they are sexually harassed, the more likely they
are to decide to make a formal report or complaint about the harassment.

(a) Type

As explained previously, all respondents were asked to identify whether or
not they had experienced a number of behaviours that are likely to constitute
sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act.23

Unwanted sexual attention
Unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing
Inappropriate staring or leering that made you feel intimidated
Repeated or inappropriate invitations to go out on dates
Repeated or inappropriate advances on email, social networking websites or
internet chat rooms by a work colleague
Intrusive questions about your private life or physical appearance that
made you feel offended

Crude or offensive behavior
Sexual gestures, indecent exposure or inappropriate display of the
body
Sexually suggestive comments or jokes that made you feel offended
Sexually explicit pictures, posters or gifts that made you feel
offended
Sexually explicit emails or text messages
Sexual coercion
Requests or pressure for sex or other sexual acts
Sexual assault
Inappropriate physical contact
Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
Other
Any other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature

 

Although a broad range of behaviours had been experienced, the most common
were sexually suggestive comments or jokes (55%), intrusive questions about
one’s private life or physical appearance (50%), and inappropriate staring
or leering (31%). These same types of behaviours also made up the top three
behaviours in the 2008 National Survey (56%, 47% and 32%,
respectively).24

A notable change between the 2008 National Survey and the 2012 National
Survey was the decline in people who reported receiving sexually explicit emails
or text messages (22% to 17%). This change may be an indication that more
employers are successfully implementing policies on appropriate use of email and
mobile phones in the workplace, as recommended in the 2008 National Survey
report. It may also mean that high profile cases reported extensively in the
media in recent years have demonstrated successfully to employees that sexually
suggestive emails and text messages can be traced and stored and used against a
harasser should a complaint be made.

Physical behaviours (eg unwelcome touching etc) were experienced by 26% of
targets in the workplace in the past five years, while non-physical behaviours
(eg sexually explicit text messages) were experienced by 97% of targets in the
workplace in that period. Many people experienced both physical and non-physical
sexual harassment.

Figure 6: Types of sexual
harassment (by survey wave)
Figure 6: Types of sexual harassment (by survey wave)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

Men were more likely than women to receive sexually explicit emails or text
messages (31% of men; 9% of women), receive sexually explicit pictures, posters
or gifts (20% of men; 12% of women), and be subject to sexual gestures, indecent
sexual exposure or inappropriate display of the body (20% of men; 12% of
women).

In contrast, women were more likely than men to experience all other types of
behaviour. For example, women were significantly more likely than men to report
inappropriate staring or leering (40% of women; 16% of men) and sexually
suggestive comments or jokes (61% of women; 45% of men).

Of those respondents who reported sexual harassment of a physical nature, 68%
were women and 32% were men. Of those respondents who reported sexual harassment
of a non-physical nature, 61% were women and 39% were men.

Figure 7: Types of sexual
harassment (by sex)
Figure 7: Types of sexual harassment (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

As in the 2008 National Survey, respondents who reported that they had been
sexually harassed based on the legal definition were more likely than those
respondents who said they had not been sexually harassed based on that
definition but who reported sexual harassment behaviours, to report physical
types of harassment.

Interestingly, 71% of respondents who said they had received sexually
explicit emails or text messages and 65% of respondents who said they had
received repeated or inappropriate advances on email, social networking websites
or internet chat rooms, originally indicated that they had not been sexually
harassed when read the legal definition of sexual harassment. This indicates a
need to educate employees about the full range of behaviours that are likely to
constitute unlawful sexual harassment.

(b) Duration

Sexual harassment, whether physical25 or
non-physical,26 was most likely to occur once only (36%), similar to
in 2008 (39%). It was next most likely to occur for a period of less than one
month (15%), sporadically (14%) or for a period of between one to three months
(12%). In a small proportion of cases, sexual harassment lasted for more than
one year (5%) or was ongoing (continuous) (6%).

Figure 8: Duration of sexual
harassment (by sex)
Figure 8: Duration of sexual harassment (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

The sex of the person harassed does not appear to have had a significant
impact on the duration of the harassment. Whilst one-off incidents were roughly
equal for women (36%) and men (37%), men (67%) were more likely than women (62%)
to experience harassment over shorter time periods of time (ie less than three
months). Conversely, women (16%) were more likely than men (12%) to experience
harassment for periods of more than six months (including on an ongoing
basis).

(c) Impact on targets

Respondents who reported that they had been sexually harassed in the
workplace over the past five years (n=420) were asked to rate how offended and
intimidated they were by the harassment on a scale of one to five (where one was
‘not at all’ and five was ‘extremely’).

The average score for feeling offended by the harassment was 2.8, down from
3.5 in 2003 and 3.2 in 2008. The average score for feeling intimidated was 2.4,
down from 3 in 2003 and 2.7 in 2008. These findings suggest a gradual decline
over time in how offended and intimidated a person is likely to feel as a result
of being sexually harassed. This may suggest that the nature of sexual
harassment is less extreme or serious for at least some targets. It could also
suggest that targets are more tolerant of sexual harassment in the
workplace.

Figure 9: Degree of offence
and intimidation (by survey wave)
Figure 9: Degree of offence and intimidation (by survey wave)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420)

 

Continuing the trend from previous surveys, the more offended or intimidated
a person feels when they are sexually harassed, the more likely they are to make
a formal report or complaint about the harassment (see section 6.1(a)).

As with the 2008 National Survey, sexual harassment caused a higher level of
offence and intimidation amongst women compared to men, with 31% of women at the
extreme end of the scale (points four and five) of feeling offended compared to
19% of men, and almost twice as many women as men (25% to 13%) at the extreme
end of feeling intimidated. Additionally, only 7% of women were not offended at
all compared to one-fifth of men (19%), and a quarter of women were not
intimidated at all (26%) compared to two in five men (41%).

Figure 10: Degree of offence
and intimidation (by sex)
Figure 10: Degree of offence and intimidation (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

5.2 Characteristics of
targets

As reported in section 4.2, approximately one in five (21%) people (targets)
in Australia has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five
years, based both on the legal and behavioural definitions of sexual
harassment.

Whilst a broad cross-section of the Australian community have experienced
sexual harassment in the workplace, the 2012 National Survey shows that targets
of sexual harassment are mostly likely to be women and less than 40 years of
age.

(a) Sex

The majority of the targets of sexual harassment in the workplace over the
past five years were women. Five in eight (62%) targets were women, compared to
only three in eight (38%) men.

Echoing research on the gendered nature of sexual harassment, these results
reinforce that sexual harassment has a greater impact on women’s safety
and security in the workforce and their ability to participate in the workforce
effectively.

(b) Age

The 2012 National Survey was the first wave to investigate the age of targets
at the time they were sexually harassed in the workplace.27

Overall, the majority (64%) of targets were less than 40 years of age when
they were harassed, with targets most likely to be harassed between the ages of
18 and 24 (21%). One in ten (10%) targets was aged between 15 and 17 years when
they were harassed, and less than one in five (17%) targets was aged 50 years
and above, a marked decreased compared to most other age groups. Above the age
of 65, the incidence of harassment for both women and men decreases markedly (1%
or less).

Female targets of sexual harassment tended to be younger than male targets.
Women (65%) were more likely than men (60%) to be under 40 at the time they were
harassed. They were also more likely than men to be aged between 18 and 24 (23%
of women; 17% of men) and 15 and 17 (8% of women; 7% for men). Conversely, men
were more likely than women to be aged between 25 and 29 years (15% of men; 13%
of women), between 30 to 34 years (8% of men; 7% of women) and
55 years and
above (20% of men; 14% of women) when they were sexually harassed.

Figure 11: Age of target at
time of sexual harassment (by sex)
Figure 11: Age of target at time of sexual harassment (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

(c) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The incidence of sexual harassment amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples (20%) was similar to that of non-Indigenous Australians (21%).
This indicates that Aboriginal and / or Torres Strait Islander peoples are no
more or less likely than non-Indigenous people to experience sexual harassment
in the workplace.

(d) Cultural and linguistic background

Seven out of 114 respondents (15%) whose main language at home was not
English reported that they had been sexually harassed in the workplace in the
past five years. Whilst this is lower than the overall prevalence rate, as noted
in previous surveys, it cannot be concluded that employees whose main language
at home is not English are less likely than those whose main language is English
to experience sexual harassment in the workplace. This is because the telephone
survey method favours individuals whose main language is English.

(e) Employment status

The proportions of people working full-time and part-time when they were
harassed were almost the same as in the 2008 National Survey (full-time: 65% in
2012; 68% in 2008; part-time: 34% in 2012; 32% in 2008). These proportions vary
slightly from those in the general population (70% of people working in
Australia are employed full time, 30% are employed part-time).28 Thus, while a particular level of workforce participation would not seem to
predispose someone to sexual harassment, the incidence of part-time workers who
were sexually harassed was slightly higher than the incidence of part-time
workers in the general population. It should be noted, however, that the sample
was not selected to reflect the Australian population by employment status
(full-time / part-time).

Of the survey population, the majority (73%) of workers who were sexually
harassed were employed on a permanent basis, with one in five (20%) employed
casually and 6% indicating they were temporary employees. Of those employed
part-time, 42% were permanent (compared to 44% in 2008), 46% were casual (the
same as in 2008) and 10% were temporary employees.

As in the case of previous surveys, the 2012 National Survey found that
sexual harassment occurs over a range of employment tenures. Almost two in five
people were sexually harassed when they had been employed for less than a year
(38%), with similar numbers employed for three or more years (39%). Almost a
quarter (23%) of people were employed between one to three years when they were
sexually harassed.

Figure 12: Length of time at
workplace when harassment took place (by survey wave)
Figure 12: Length of time at workplace when harassment took place (by survey wave)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years who were working full-time or part-time (n=416)

Twenty-one per cent (21%) of people who were sexually harassed in the
workplace in the past five years were employed as professional workers, 17% as
clerical or office workers, and 16% as service workers. It should be noted that
the sample was not selected to reflect the Australian population by
occupation.

Of the survey population, fewer professional workers were the targets of
sexual harassment in 2012 than in 2008 (down to 21% from 31%), while harassment
of service workers almost doubled between 2008 (9%) and 2012 (16%).

Figure 13: Occupation at time
of harassment (by survey wave)
Figure 13: Occupation at time of harassment (by survey wave)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
last 5 years (n=420); 2008 (n=226)

 

Men employed as skilled tradespersons, semi-skilled workers and technology
professionals were more likely than women employed in those same occupations to
be sexually harassed. This may be attributable to the fact that these
occupations are male-dominated in Australian workplaces.

Women were more likely than men to be sexually harassed while employed in
most other occupation categories, especially as professional workers, clerical
or office workers and service workers. This may also be attributable to the fact
that these occupations are female-dominated.

Figure 14: Occupation at time
of harassment (by sex)
Figure 14: Occupation at time of harassment (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
last 5 years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

5.3 Characteristics of
harassers

Sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is perpetrated by men and women of
all working ages and at all levels of an organisation. However, the findings of
the 2012 National Survey show that harassers are most likely to be men, aged
between 31 to 50 years and co-workers of the person harassed.

(a) Sex

The vast majority of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is
perpetrated by men, irrespective of the sex / gender of the target of the
harassment.

Nearly four out of five (79%) harassers were men, a slight decrease from 2008
(81%). Most women (90%) said that their harasser was male, while 37% of men said
that their harasser was a woman.

Figure 15: Sex of harasser
(by sex)
Figure 15: Sex of harasser (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

Overall, men harassing women accounted for more than half (56%) of all sexual
harassment, continuing a downward trend from previous years (72% in 2003; 62% in
2008). Male harassment of men continued to rise, however, accounting for nearly
a quarter (23%) of sexual harassment (7% in 2003; 18% in 2008).

Female harassment of men accounted for 14% of all sexual harassment in 2012,
marginally less than in 2008 (15%) and less than in 2003 (19%). Women harassing
women accounted for 6% of sexual harassment, almost the same as in 2008 (5%) and
higher than in 2003 (2%).

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 was much more common for men than
for women, with 61% of men harassed by another man and only 10% of women
harassed by another woman. Men employed as skilled tradespersons were more
likely to experience same-sex harassment than men working in any other
occupation (17%, or 16 out of the 95 men harassed by men). The occupation
category with the next highest incidence of male harassment of men was
‘manager, executive or official’ (15%), followed by professional
worker (14%). However, in both of these occupations, the most common form of
harassment was of women by men, and not men by men.

The high incidence of same-sex harassment of men in the skilled tradesperson
occupation category supports the suggestion from the report of the 2008 National
Survey that male harassment of men most commonly takes place in male-dominated
work environments where the targets are perceived to be different in some way
from the dominant group in the workplace.

A small percentage (2%) of male targets of harassment did not know the sex of
their harasser. This may be because the harassment was carried out in a way that
meant the perpetrator could not be identified (eg text message from an
unidentified phone number, anonymous note).

(b) Age

Harassers were most likely to be aged between 31 and 50 (57%), with slightly
more aged between 31 to 40 years (32%) than 41 to 50 years (25%).

One in four (25%) harassers in the workplace over the past five years were
men in their thirties and one-fifth (20%) were men in their forties. In 2003 and
2008, around two-thirds of harassers were men over the age of 30, which is still
the case in 2012 (63%).

Women over the age of 30 made up 13% of all harassers, while women over 40
accounted for only 7% of all harassers.

Figure 16: Age of harasser
(by sex)
Figure 16: Age of harasser (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); respondents harassed by male harasser (n=331);
respondents harassed by female harasser (n=85); respondents who did not know
gender of harasser (n=4)

 

(c) Relationship to target

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%).
This is consistent with previous surveys, which also found that harassers were
most likely to be a co-worker (50% in 2008; 48% in 2003), boss or employer (8%
in 2008; 20% in 2003), or supervisor or manager (9% in 2008; 13% in 2003) of the
person harassed.

Figure 17: Relationship of
harasser to target (by survey wave)
Figure 17: Relationship of harasser to target (by survey wave)
Base: 2012: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace
in the past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

Men were more likely than women to be harassed by a co-worker (64% of men;
45% of women) or ‘others associated with the workplace’ (8% of men;
6% of women). Women were more likely than men to be harassed by all other
employee categories. Notably, women were at least five times more likely than
men to have been harassed by a boss or employer (17% to 3%).

Figure 18: Relationship of
harasser to target (by sex)
Figure 18: Relationship of harasser to target (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

(d) Multiple or repeat harassers

Forty-five per cent of respondents who had been sexually harassed in the
workplace in the past five years were aware of someone else who had been
harassed in that same workplace (see section 4.4 above). For the first time,
those respondents were asked whether the harasser was the same person who had
harassed them.

The majority of those respondents (82%) reported that the person who harassed
them had similarly harassed other people in the workplace. Sixteen per cent
(16%) reported that the harassment had been by someone else. Importantly, this
finding suggests that taking immediate and effective action to deal with an
individual perpetrator may be an effective and efficient way to prevent other
employees from being sexually harassed by that same perpetrator. Conversely,
failing to take such action may contribute to a culture of harassment.

Men (28%) were more likely than women (9%) to report the presence of multiple
harassers in the workplace. In contrast, women (89%) were more likely than men
(71%) to report the presence of repeat harassers.

Figure 19: Awareness of
harassment perpetrated by the same or multiple

harassers (by
sex)
Figure 19: Awareness of harassment perpetrated by the same or multiple
Bases: Respondents aware of someone else being sexually harassed in the
same location where they had experienced sexual harassment (n=190); men (n=68);
women (n=122)

 

In addition to the high proportion of repeat harassers, there is a high
perception amongst targets that sexual harassment occurred commonly or sometimes
in their workplace (see section 4.4).

5.4 Characteristics of
workplaces

No workplace, regardless of its size or industry, is immune from sexual
harassment. Each wave of the survey has found that sexual harassment is
pervasive and occurs in workplaces of all sizes and across all industries,
though the 2012 National Survey found that it occurs most commonly in large
workplaces and in a handful of industries (ie health and community services;
accommodation, café and restaurant; retail; and education). It should be
noted, however, that the sample was not selected to reflect the Australian
population by employer size or industry.

(a) Size

Sexual harassment was most likely to occur in large workplaces (41%),
followed by small (33%) and medium (24%) workplaces.

In contrast, sexual harassment was more evenly spread across employer size in
2008 (large: 39%; medium: 30%; small: 31%), and equally likely to occur in small
(38%) and large (37%) workplaces in 2003.29

(b) Industry

Sexual harassment was most likely to occur in the health and community
services (14%), accommodation, café and restaurant (11%), retail (11%)
and education (10%) industries. The top four industries in which sexual
harassment occurs have not changed across the three waves of the survey,
although the order has changed slightly across each survey wave.

5.5 Conclusion

The 2012 National Survey shows that experiences of sexual harassment in the
workplace are extremely diverse: they involve a broad range of behaviours and
occur through a variety of different mediums, in different industries and
workplace sizes and last for different periods of time, and with diverse
consequences for individuals harassed. Notwithstanding these varied experiences,
the survey shows that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment is
perpetrated by male co-workers, who are between the ages of 31 to 50 years. It
also shows that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment is perpetrated
against women, especially young women.

Because experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace are extremely
diverse,
it is important that prevention strategies target all employees,
across all levels of seniority. However, when developing and implementing those
strategies, it is important for employers to consider which groups of employees
may be:

  • more vulnerable to sexual harassment
  • more likely to engage in sexual harassment
  • able to take action to prevent or reduce the harm of sexual
    harassment.

It is also important that employers ensure that their
prevention strategies address sexual harassment involving persons of the
opposite sex and persons of the same sex.

In addition, it is important for employers to ensure that prevention
strategies 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).

Further research is needed to understand the characteristics of workplaces
and industries in which sexual harassment is most likely to occur. An example of
such research is the ADF Survey, conducted as part of the Defence Review, which
examined the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in the ADF
and provided a comparative analysis with the results of the 2012 National Survey
(see section 2.3). The detailed insights gained into sexual harassment in the
ADF workplace through interviews with a statistically significant sample of ADF
employees (n=1,000) suggests there is real value in expanding future waves of
the survey to include other industries, for example financial services, mining
and information technology.

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