Skip to main content

Search

Chapter 6 - 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
6: Prevention and response

Chapter 6 examines steps taken to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in
Australian workplaces. It focuses on the frequency, nature and outcomes of
formal reports and complaints about sexual harassment as well as seeking advice
or support. It also addresses the frequency, type and outcomes of bystander
actions and identifies preferred sources of information about sexual harassment.

Key findings
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.

6.1 Formal reports and
complaints

Although sexual harassment is common in Australian workplaces, only a small
proportion of people who have been harassed in the workplace make formal reports
or complaints about sexual harassment. This is in spite of the fact that formal
reports or complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace have been resolved
quickly
(in less than one month) in most cases and with high or extremely
high levels of satisfaction amongst the majority of complainants. There may,
however, be a correlation between the low rates of reporting and the increasing
number of people who experience negative consequences (eg victimisation) as a
result of making a formal report or complaint.

Because of the small sample size of respondents who made a formal report or
complaint about sexual harassment (n=85) and the even smaller sample sizes when
gender is taken into account (women: n=59; men: n=26), many of the results in
section 6.1 are reported in terms of a fraction (x/y) rather than a percentage
(%). However, to ensure consistency with other parts of the report, percentages
are used in each of the figures / graphs.

(a) Number

Respondents who said they had been sexually harassed in the workplace in the
last five years (n=420) were asked whether or not they made a formal report or
complaint. Only one in five (20%) of those respondents indicated that they had
made a formal report or complaint, a small increase since 2008 (16%) but much
lower than in 2003 (32%).

It is an ongoing concern that the majority of people who are sexually
harassed in the workplace do not formally report the harassment. It highlights
that employers need to address sexual harassment proactively, rather than rely
on individual employees to make formal reports or complaints. This is especially
important in light of the finding that a high proportion of incidents are
perpetrated by a single, repeat offender (see section 5.3(d)).

Formal reports and complaints were slightly more common amongst women (22%)
than men (17%), similar to in 2008 (19% of women, 9% of men). There has,
however, been a significant increase in the proportion of reports or complaints
submitted by men between 2008 (9%) and 2012 (17%).

Figure 20: Formal reports and
complaints (by sex)
Figure 20: Formal reports and complaints (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420), men (n=159), women (n=261)

 

Formal reports and complaints were most likely to be made by people aged 15
to
17 years (30%), followed by people aged 30 to 39 years (27%). Formal
reports and complaints were lowest amongst persons aged 65 years or more
(10%).

Figure 21: Formal reports and
complaints (by age)
Figure 21: Formal reports and complaints (by age)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years (n=420); 15-17 (n=15); 18-29 (n=125); 30-39 (n=83); 40-49
(n=100); 50-64 (n=80); 65+ (n=17)

 

The majority of people who made formal reports or complaints related to
sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years were either extremely
offended (44%) or very offended (25%) or extremely intimidated (48%) or very
intimated (28%) by the harassment.

Figure 22: Complaints
according to degree of offence or intimidation
Figure 22: Complaints according to degree of offence or intimidation
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
past five years and made a formal complaint (n=85)

 

Out of all respondents who made a formal report or complaint about sexual
harassment, 35% reported physical harassment and 97% reported non-physical
harassment (noting, once again, that many respondents experienced both physical
and non-physical forms of harassment). Taken from another perspective, the data
shows that 26% of all respondents who experienced physical harassment and 20% of
all respondents who experienced non-physical sexual harassment formally reported
sexual harassment.

(b) Recipients of reports and complaints

Reports and complaints related to sexual harassment in the workplace were
submitted to a diverse range of individuals, highlighting the need for
widespread training on how to respond effectively to such reports and
complaints.

The majority of reports and complaints about sexual harassment in the
workplace were made to the target’s employer or one of its
representatives. Managers / supervisors (51%) and employers / the boss (20%)
were the most common recipients of reports and complaints. This continues the
trend from previous surveys, which found that managers / supervisors (53% in
2003, 64% in 2008) and employers / the boss (34% in 2003, 25% in 2008) are the
most common recipients of reports and complaints.

Figure 23: Complaint
recipients (by survey wave)
Figure 23: Complaint recipients (by survey wave)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and
who made a formal report or complaint (n=85); men (n=26); women (n=59)

 

A very small proportion (1%) of respondents submitted complaints to the
Commission or its state and territory counterparts.30 This suggests
that the sexual harassment complaints that the Commission receives each year
represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Sexual harassment complaints received by the Australian
Human Rights Commission under the Sex Discrimination Act*
Women
Men
Total
%**
2011 – 2012
233
29
262
25
2010 – 2011
227
38
205
30
2009 – 2010
173
28
201
21
2008 – 2009
183
26
209
22
2007 – 2008
130
27
157
18

* One complaint may have multiple grounds of discrimination.

** As a percentage of complaints received under the Sex Discrimination
Act.

Women were more likely than men to address their report or complaint to their
manager / supervisor (women: 33/59; men: 11/26) and employer / boss (women:
14/59; men: 2/26). In contrast, men (6/26) were more likely than women (6/59) to
address their complaint to their human resources manager or equivalent.

(c) Time taken to submit reports and complaints

Over two in five (43%) respondents who made a report or complaint related to
sexual harassment did so immediately, on the same day or the day after being
harassed. Women (27/59) were more likely than men (9/26) to submit a report or
complaint immediately, on the same day or the next day. In contrast, men (10/26)
were more likely than women (9/56) to submit a complaint one to three months
later.

Figure 24: Time period
between harassment and reporting (by sex)
Figure 24: Time period between harassment and reporting (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and
who made a formal report or complaint (n=85); men (n=26); women (n=59)

 

(d) Finalisation

The majority (78%) of complaints that were finalised were finalised in less
than a month, with almost half (49%) of respondents indicating that their
complaints were finalised immediately or on the next working day. This is
consistent with the 2008 National Survey and shows that complaints processes can
be an efficient way to address sexual harassment. A very small proportion of
complaints (3%) took more than 12 months to be finalised.

Finalised reports and complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace
were more likely to be finalised between the target and his or her employer (or
one of its representatives) than with the involvement of external actors (eg
courts). Just over one-third of respondents who made a formal report or
complaint finalised it with their employer (36%) or their boss (34%).

(e) Outcomes

Almost half (45%) of respondents who made a formal report or complaint
indicated that the sexual harassment stopped after taking such action,
indicating that reporting can be an effective way to stop sexual harassment.
Rates were almost identical for women (27/59) and men (11/26).

One in five (20%) respondents who made a formal report or complaint said
there were no consequences for them as a result of reporting or making a
complaint about sexual harassment. Men (7/26) were more likely than women (7/59)
to indicate that there had been no consequences for them of reporting or making
a complaint.

Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents who made a formal report or complaint
said they experienced negative consequences as a result of reporting or making a
complaint about sexual harassment in the workplace. These consequences included
being transferred to another location, changes in shifts, resignation,
dismissal, demotion, being disciplined, victimisation, being ostracised or
ignored by colleagues, being labelled a trouble-maker and other negative
consequences. This is an increase from 2008 (22%) and 2003 (16%) and suggests
that a greater number of people are experiencing negative consequences as a
result of reporting sexual harassment.

Similar numbers of women (18/59) and men (7/26) said they had experienced one
or more negative consequences. A small group of women (2) were demoted or
dismissed. No men reported such consequences.

Figure 25: Consequences for
the target following the complaint (by sex)
Figure 25: Consequences for the target following the complaint (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and
who made a formal report or complaint (n=85); men (n=26); women (n=59)

Seventy-two per cent (72%) of respondents who made a formal report or
complaint indicated that there were consequences for the harasser or that
the harasser apologised. This compares to 72% of respondents in 2008 and 59% of
respondents in 2003.

The most common consequences for the harasser were that they were spoken to
about their behaviour (40%), formally warned (33%) and / or disciplined
(29%).

Figure 26: Consequences for
the harasser following the complaint (by sex)
Figure 26: Consequences for the harasser following the complaint (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and
who made a formal report or complaint (n=85); men (n=26); women (n=59)

 

Just over half (52%) of respondents who made a formal report or complaint
related to sexual harassment indicated that there were no consequences for the
company or workplace arising from the report or complaint. Just over a
quarter (27%) of respondents said their employer implemented some training or
education on sexual harassment. Employers made changes to employment practices
or procedures or developed or amended policies on sexual harassment only in a
handful of cases (9%).

Figure 27: Workplace
consequences following the complaint (by sex)
Figure 27: Workplace consequences following the complaint (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and
who made a formal report or complaint (n=85); men (n=26); women (n=59)

 

(f) Satisfaction with reporting and complaint
processes

Seventy-four per cent (74%) of respondents who made a formal report or
complaint about sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years, which
was finlalised, indicated that they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with
the complaint process. Women (38/51) were more likely to be satisfied with the
complaint process than men (16/25).

Overall, satisfaction with the process has increased from 3.1 in 2008 to 3.8
in 2012.

Figure 28: Satisfaction with
overall complaint process (by sex)
Figure 28: Satisfaction with overall complaint process (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, who
made a formal report or complaint and whose complaint was finalised (n=76); men
(n=25); women (n=51)

 

6.2 Support and advice

As in the case of formal reports and complaints, only a small proportion of
persons who have been sexually harassed in the workplace seek support or advice.
When support or advice is sought, it is from a diverse range of actors within
the workplace.

(a) Number

Respondents who said they had been sexually harassed in the workplace in the
last five years (n=420) were asked whether or not they sought any support or
advice following the harassment. Less than one-third (29%) of respondents
indicated that they had sought support or advice. This was almost the same as in
2008 (30%).

Women (35%) were more likely than men (20%) to seek support or advice.

Figure 29: Support or advice
(by sex)
Figure 29: Support or advice (by sex)
Base: Respondents who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the
last 5 years (n=420); men (n=159); women (n=261)

 

(b) Sources

Targets of sexual harassment were more likely to seek support or advice from
their employer or one of its representatives than from external actors. Managers
and supervisors (42%), co-workers (18%) and employers / the boss (16%) were the
most common sources of support and advice following sexual harassment in the
workplace.

Managers and supervisors (39%), friends or family (24%) and co-workers (21%)
were the most common sources of support and advice consulted in 2008.

Figure 30: Sources of support
and advice
Figure 30: Sources of support and advice
Base: Respondents who sought support and advice (n=126); men (n=32); women
(n=94)

 

6.3 Reasons for not
reporting or seeking support or advice

Respondents who did not make a formal report or complaint or seek support or
advice following sexual harassment (n=333) were asked to explain why they did
not take such action. The 2012 National Survey was the first to ask why
respondents did not seek support or advice, with previous surveys focusing only
on why respondents did not submit a formal report or complaint.

The most common reasons for not making a formal report or complaint or
seeking support or advice were that the target:

  • dealt with the situation themselves, either by telling the harasser that the
    harassment was inappropriate or to stop the harassment (women: 14%; men
    16%)
  • perceived that the harassment was not serious enough (women: 13%; men:
    18%).

Women (10%) were more likely than men (5%) to feel that the
harasser was too senior, but an equal proportion of women and men believed it
was easier to keep quiet than to make a formal report or complaint or seek
support or advice (9%).

Men were more likely than women to say that the harassment didn’t
bother them (men: 9%; women: 3%), they weren’t offended or only mildly
offended (men: 6%; women: 2%) or the harasser did not mean to offend them (men:
5%; women: 3%).

More women (4%) than men (1%) felt that they might get fired if they made a
formal report or complaint or sought support or advice about sexual harassment
or could not trust the people to whom they would be required to submit a report
or complaint of sexual harassment (women: 4%; men: 2%).

A number of women and men provided ‘other’ reasons for not making
a formal report or complaint or seeking support or advice. Reasons provided by
respondents included that it wasn’t ‘manly’ to make a
complaint, they were old enough to deal with the harassment themselves and they
didn’t want to satisfy the harasser with a reaction.

Figure 31: Most common
reasons for women not formally reporting or seeking

support or
advice
Figure 31: Most common reasons for women not formally reporting or seeking
Base: Women who did not make a formal report or complaint or seek support
or advice (n=201)

Figure 32: Most common
reasons for men not formally reporting or seeking

support or
advice
Figure 32: Most common reasons for men not formally reporting or seeking
Base: Men who did not make a formal report or complaint or seek support or
advice (n=132)

 

6.4 Bystander actions

A majority of individuals who have witnessed or subsequently learned about
sexual harassment in their workplace (bystanders) have taken action to prevent
or reduce the harm of the harassment. Although a wide range of actions were
reported, the most common were to talk or listen to the target and offer him or
her advice. There were no consequences, either positive or negative, for the
overwhelming majority of bystanders who took action in response to sexual
harassment.

(a) Number

Just over half (51%) of bystanders took action to prevent or reduce the harm
of the harassment, underscoring the need for employers to support
bystanders.

What are bystander actions?31
Bystander approaches to sexual harassment focus on the ways in which
individuals who are not the targets of harassment intervene to prevent and
reduce the harm of sexual harassment. Individuals can be active
bystanders
, meaning that they take action (bystander actions) to
prevent or reduce the harm of sexual harassment. Alternatively, individuals can
be passive bystanders, meaning that they take no action after observing
or being informed about sexual harassment.

 

Women (56%) were more likely than men (46%) to take bystander actions after
witnessing or hearing about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Figure 33: Bystanders who
took action to address sexual harassment (by sex)
Figure 33: Bystanders who took action to address sexual harassment (by sex)
Base: Respondents aware of others being sexually harassed in the workplace
(n=363); men (175); women (188)

 

A direct comparison with previous waves of the survey is not possible for
bystander actions. Reasons for this include the broader definition of bystander
used in the 2012 National Survey (which includes bystanders who heard about
sexual harassment).

However, it is interesting to note that 82% of bystanders who witnessed
sexual harassment in their workplace firsthand (as opposed to hearing about it
after the incident(s) occurred) took some sort of action in response to that
harassment. This is slightly lower than the proportion of bystanders who took
action after witnessing sexual harassment in their workplace in the 2008
National Survey (88%) and the 2003 National Survey (87%).

Research suggests that the likelihood of a bystander taking action to prevent
or reduce the harm of sexual harassment and the type of action (ie low
involvement, high involvement) taken may be influenced by a variety of factors,
including the:

  • proximity of the bystander to the harassment, including whether or not he or
    she witnessed it firsthand
  • organisational environment (eg the extent to which advocacy for targets is
    supported)
  • extent to which the bystander identifies with the target of the
    harassment
  • bystander’s perception of the benefits and costs of taking
    action.32

A bystander may be more likely to take action
if they witnessed the sexual harassment firsthand, feel that their workplace
supports such action, identify with the target and / or perceive that the
benefits of taking such action outweigh the costs. Thus, the inclusion in the
2012 National Survey of bystanders who heard about sexual harassment in
their workplace after the incident occurred (rather than witnessed it firsthand)
could contribute to lower levels of bystander action, as their proximity to the
harassment is not as immediate as those who witness sexual harassment.

(b) Type

The most common actions taken by sexual harassment bystanders were to talk to
or listen to the target (87%) or offer the target advice (78%). This is
consistent with the most common actions reported in 2003 (76% and 67%,
respectively) and 2008 (72% and 69%, respectively).

The percentage of people who decided to confront the harasser themselves has
fallen from 45% in 2003 to 38% in 2008 to 26% in 2012. This may be an indication
that workers are more aware of alternative ways of dealing with workplace
harassment (eg internal reporting mechanisms) or are more fearful of the
negative repercussions of confronting the harasser themselves.

Figure 34: Type of bystander
actions (by survey wave)
Figure 34: Type of bystander actions (by survey wave)
Base: 2012: Respondents who took action after becoming aware of others
harassed in their current workplace (n=187)

 

Women were more likely than men to talk to or listen to the target (95%
women,
77% men) or offer the target advice (82% women, 73% men). In
contrast, men were more likely than women to report the harassment to their
employer (45% men,
33% women) or to confront the harasser (33% men, 19%
women).

Examples of ‘other’ actions included reporting the harassment
through or participating in an internal workplace mechanism, participating in
education and training, and reporting the incident through an external mechanism
(eg police, professional organisations).

Figure 35: Type of bystander
actions (by sex)
Figure 35: Type of bystander actions (by sex)
Base: Respondents who took action after becoming aware of others harassed
in their current workplace (n=187); men (82); women (105)

 

(c) Outcomes

For the first time, sexual harassment bystanders were asked whether there
were any consequences for them of taking action to prevent or reduce the harm of
the harassment. There were no consequences, either positive or negative, for the
overwhelming majority of respondents (81%) who took bystander action.

A small proportion of bystanders received positive feedback for making a
complaint about the harassment (6%) or said that the harassment stopped
(4%).

A small proportion of bystanders indicated that taking action had negative
consequences for them. This included being ostracised, victimised or ignored by
colleagues (4%), with men (7%) more likely than women (2%) to report those
outcomes. It also included resignation or being labelled a trouble-maker,
disciplined or transferred (3%) and dismissal (1%).

Eight per cent (8%) of respondents reported ‘other’ consequences
after taking bystander action. Examples included receiving threatening telephone
calls and being asked by human resources to inform colleagues of the
situation.

Figure 36: Most common
consequences of bystander actions (by sex)
Figure 36: Most common consequences of bystander actions (by sex)
Base: Respondents who took action after becoming aware of others harassed
in their current workplace (n=187); men (82); women (105)

 

6.5 Access to information
about sexual harassment

The Internet is the most common preferred source of information about sexual
harassment across all age groups (56%). Other preferred sources of information
include human resource managers (12%), print media (12%), TV or radio (9%),
friends or family (8%), employers or boss (5%) and the Commission or its state
and territory equivalents (5%).

Friends and family (29%) and school teachers or university lecturers (32%)
were identified as preferred sources of information about sexual harassment
amongst persons between 15 to 17 years of age. Only 1% of this age group
identified human resource managers as their preferred sources.

6.6 Conclusion

The low rates of reporting suggest a need to improve 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.

Outside formal reporting and complaints processes, 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.

This includes creating 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 prevention strategies, beginning with primary prevention strategies (eg
sexual harassment training, including on the different forms of bystander
involvement). These strategies should be supplemented with secondary prevention
strategies
(eg implementing effective reporting and complaint processes,
including addressing the risks of victimisation to bystanders) and tertiary
prevention strategies
(eg supporting bystanders who take
action).33 Central to each of these strategies is ensuring that
bystanders feel that their workplace supports action to prevent and reduce the
harm of sexual harassment.

^Top