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Survey shows workplace harassment still rife


312312-bizmoney-stock-sexual-harassmentThe Sex Discrimination Commissioner says efforts to curb sexual harassment in the workplace have not made a significant difference.A Human Rights Commission survey shows one in five workers experienced sexual harassment in the past five years.

The survey, conducted over four months earlier this year, found that one-third of all women, and one in 10 men reported being sexually harassed.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says targets are most likely to be women under 40 and harassers most likely to be male co-workers.

“Four out of five perpetrators are male, although we did find that targets of sexual harassment, the overwhelming majority were women, but also there’s a growing group of men who are sexually harassed in the workplace,” she said.

The survey shows the type of harassment against men is typically different from that perpetrated against women.

“It is predominantly from other men, and it’s often – the target is often the man who is not part of the traditional macho culture of the organisation. So he’s the man who likes music not sport, he’s the man who sits about outside the group, maybe exhibits greater feminine qualities than other men,” she said.

“They’re the ones that are the targets of sexual harassment. It is about gender stereotypes, it’s also about power. In fact women are five times more likely to be harassed by their boss or manager, men more likely by their co-worker.”

The survey shows that reporting rates have edged higher, with 20 per cent of people who had been harassed now reporting it, up from 16 per cent in 2008.

However, Elizabeth Broderick says that figure is still too low, and rates of harassment very high.

“I am concerned because it shows that sexual harassment in Australia is still pervasive and persistent and really despite all our efforts over the last five years we really haven’t made much of a dent,” she said.

Education needed

Commissioner Broderick says a new educational campaign is needed.

“A lot of people, a lot of organisations have put in prevention policies, zero tolerance, transparent complaints mechanisms,” she added.

“It’s just not enough, and I think one of the major findings from the survey is that people are still confused about what sexual harassment actually is.”

Commissioner Broderick says harassment can include a wide range of unwelcome actions and comments.

“It is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which offends, humiliates or intimidates, and it’s reasonably anticipated that the target would feel offended, humiliated or intimated,” she explained.

“It’s about unwelcome hugging, kissing, cornering, unwelcome sexually explicit texts and emails and social media. It’s about physical contact, unwelcome sexual physical contact. So all those things kind of fall into it, including intrusive questions about your sex life or your personal life.”

Commissioner Broderick says sexual harassment causes significant mental harm to its targets, and forces some people out of work altogether.

“In terms of a psychological trauma, the harm that comes from that, and sometimes the fact that women who are sexually harassed will choose to leave the workforce completely,” she added.

Elizabeth Broderick says that is why Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech on sexism struck a chord with many women.

“All women have their story, and many women would like to give a speech similar to that,” she said.

“I mean, I don’t get into the politics of it, I have to say I’m really focused on the policy, but I think one of the things about our sexual harassment survey is that it actually lends some credible evidence to the fact that a form of sexism, and that’s sexual harassment, is alive and well in Australia today.”

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