‘Disappointing Though Not Surprising’: Australia’s Workplace Sexual Harassment Figures Haven’t Changed In 4 Years

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At least half of all women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or violence. That’s 1 in 2 that has been sexually harassed, 1 in 3 that has been physically abused and 1 in 5 that has been sexually abused. Let that sink in. With #FiredUp, Refinery29 Australia makes an ongoing commitment to spotlighting this serious and pervasive issue with the goal of dismantling gendered violence in Australia.
A new survey from the Australian Human Rights Commission has revealed that 1 in 3 workers in Australia have reported having experienced sexual harassment in their workplace over the past five years, with only 18% of incidents reported.
The survey of 10,000 Aussies unveiled that women (41%) were far more likely than men (26%) to experience harassment, and that more than three-quarters of harassers were men (77%).
It also found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (56%) were more likely to have experienced workplace sexual harassment than people who are non-Indigenous. Young people, LGBTQIA+ workers (46%), people with an intersex variation (70%), people with disability (48%), those from CALD backgrounds, and migrant workers or workers on temporary visas were also identified as having greater exposure to workplace sexual harassment.
As the fifth in a series of national surveys looking at the issue, National Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says this report's result of 1 in 3 workers being sexually harassed at work is disappointingly the same as that of the previous survey conducted in 2018.
"It is unacceptable that so many Australian workers continue to experience sexual harassment," Jenkins said in an official press statement this week.
"Though disappointing, it is not surprising that these results are similar to the previous survey’s results because most of the recommendations from the Respect@Work Report have only recently been acted on, and some are still being implemented."
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report released in 2020 is the product of an 18-month inquiry led by Jenkins into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The report’s findings were based on a survey of 10,000 workers, 460 written submissions and 60 public consultations with 600 participants. Within the report were 55 recommendations for government, business and community sectors to consider.
Earlier this week the Respect@Work Bill passed parliament, meaning that several recommendations from the Respect@Work Report will finally be put into place, including a positive duty on employers to take proactive steps to end harassment and discrimination at work.⁠
“The Respect@Work Bill is a major achievement that fundamentally changes how Australia protects people from workplace sexual harassment,” Jenkins said.⁠
“It changes our settings from being reactive to also being proactive, so that employers are required to take meaningful action to prevent harassment from occurring. It shifts the emphasis from a complaints-based model to one where employers must take action, and continuously assess and evaluate whether they are meeting the requirements of the duty.”⁠
Last month the Respect@Work Council, chaired by Jenkins, launched a new website that aims to be a "one-stop-shop" of resources for employers and workers to address sexual harassment in the workplace. 
The new site includes good-practice guides, training materials, workplace-assessment tools, information, videos, and guidance that is free and easily accessible. Jenkins says it will outline frameworks for workplaces to follow in order to ensure a safe environment for employees.
This week Jenkins said that "it is concerning that only 18% of sexual harassment incidents are reported" and that the new website aims to provide the tools for employees and workplaces "on how to respond to incidents".
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.
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