One in three Australians sexually harasses at work

The Australian Human Rights Commission has found almost one in three workers have been sexually harassed at work.

Rates of sexual harassment in the workplace are highest in the information industry, media and telecommunications, according to a new study.

For the first time, the Australian Human Rights Commission's survey of 10,000 workers has provided industry-specific data.

More than four in five workers in the information, media and telecommunications industries said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past five years.

The figures were also high in the arts and recreation services, electricity, gas, water and waste services and the retail sector.

Overall, the survey found that almost one-third of Australians have suffered sexual harassment at work in the past five years, or two out of five women and a quarter of men.

Sexual discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins told SBS News, the increase in the last poll in 2012 was worrisome.

"The findings show us, with concern, that one in three Australians has suffered sexual harassment in the last five years, which is a significant increase in our last survey," he said. "That told us that one in five Australians had suffered sexual harassment."

"So we should be worried, but we should also be sure that this is a good time to act and change this story," he said.

The commission defines sexual harassment as any unwanted or unwanted sexual behavior that causes a person to feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Targeted marginal groups

The report found that people from marginalized groups experience higher rates of sexual harassment in the workplace than others.

People in the LGBTIQ + community were more likely to suffer sexual harassment than people who identified as heterosexual: 52 percent compared to 31 percent.

Sexual discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins says the increase in cases is worrisome.


More than half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people said they had been sexually harassed at work, compared to a third of non-indigenous people.

People with disabilities were also more likely to suffer sexual harassment at work than people without disabilities.

Young Australians were the age group most likely to be sexually harassed at work, with almost half between the ages of 18 and 29 reported cases.

Ms. Jenkins said there is a common theme in the results.

"I think this report tells us that sexual harassment has less to do with sex and more with power and abuse of power," he said.

Fewer spectators prepared to intervene

But Ms. Jenkins said the results reveal that the formal report of sexual harassment in the workplace remains low.

Two out of five women say they are being sexually harassed in the workplace.

Two out of five women say they are being sexually harassed in the workplace.


"According to previous surveys, we found that only one in five people complain or report sexual harassment when it occurs," he said. "That includes pedestrians, or people who see it happen."

"We noticed a drop in the number of people who intervened, so if you saw something that was inappropriate, in the past, one in two people would have talked or talked to the person," he said. "This survey shows that it has been reduced to one in three people."

Victoria Legal Aid's attorney Melanie Schleiger works with people who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace.

She told SBS News that there is an inherent problem with the complaint system.

"We regularly see people who choose not to file a complaint because they want to forget the incident or suffer psychological damage from the harassment," he said. "Or they're worried about their reputation and the effect a complaint will have on their careers."

"And this is what we see as a major flaw with the current legal system, which relies entirely on victims of sexual harassment to enforce the law when filing complaints," he said.

How to take action

If someone is suffering from sexual harassment at work, there are several ways to act.

The person can face the harasser, file an internal complaint or file a complaint with the local Human Rights Commission, or even the federal Human Rights Commission.

If the situation is still not resolved, the matter can be brought before the courts.

But Ms. Schleiger said there is too much responsibility on the person who is being sexually harassed.

"There has to be an agency that can prosecute employers when they do not comply with their obligations under the discrimination laws," he said. "Therefore, if a workplace does not address sexual harassment, then it must be held accountable."

The first national investigation of the Human Rights Commission on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces will begin public consultations later this month.

A report on the research findings will be published in the second half of next year.

Kate Jenkins says she hopes it will lead to lasting change.

"The task of this research is to find new solutions and better mechanisms to prevent sexual harassment," he said.

"So I will explore in great detail and, in particular, I will look for examples of good practices, both in Australia and around the world, about what is done to create better workplaces that are more respectful."

"I know that employers are really interested in understanding what they should do, because there is no desire for this to continue and for these results to continue at the pace they are," he said.