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Respect@Work report addresses workplace sexual harassment

Wednesday 18, Mar 2020

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Respect@Work report addresses workplace sexual harassment | NSCA Foundation newsletter Safe-T-BulletinTwo in five women (39%) and one in four men (26%) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to Everyone’s Business, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. According to the Respect@Work report released by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, gender-based issues affect all industries. The Respect@Work report is the culmination of an 18-month national inquiry into the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, the drivers of this harassment and measures to address and prevent it.

“I feel privileged that so many Australians shared with us their personal experiences of sexual harassment at work, and I have been dismayed by the harms suffered by victims and the cost to the economy,” Jenkins said. “However, I have also been heartened by the whole-of-community response to the National Inquiry. Australia wants change.” The report brings together evidence from Everyone’s Business, which surveyed 10,000 Australians, in addition to 60 public health consultations with more than 600 people across Australia, 460 submissions, and global research and economic modelling on the cost of sexual harassment.

Through a package of 55 recommendations, the Respect@Work report proposes a new approach for government, employers and the community to better prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. This new approach is focused on five key areas, including:

  1. Data and research, to deliver industry-based information about the nature of sexual harassment and effectiveness of actions.
  2. Primary prevention of sexual harassment through education, media and community-wide initiatives.
  3. A refocused legal and regulatory framework, which recognises the mutually reinforcing roles of workplace, safety and human rights laws.
  4. Better workplace prevention and responses, which are leader-driven, victim-centred, practical and adaptable.
  5. Better support, advice and advocacy for people who experience sexual harassment.

Using the data derived from Everyone’s Business, the Respect@Work report identified five different types of sexually harassing behaviour, including: verbal forms of sexual harassment (eg, sexually suggestive jokes, intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance); sexually explicit pictures, posters or gifts; and intimidating or threatening behaviours (eg, inappropriate staring or leering, sexual gestures and indecent exposure). As per the report, sexual harassment also includes inappropriate physical contact (eg, unwelcome touching, or actual or attempted rape/sexual assault) and sexual harassment involving technology, such as sexually explicit emails, SMS or social media, and indecent phone calls.

According to the survey, the two most commonly reported types of behaviour were sexually suggestive comments or jokes and intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance. “We heard that workplace sexual harassment is prevalent and pervasive: it occurs in every industry and at every level across Australia. This is not simply the story of ‘a few bad apples’,” Jenkins said. “Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue: it is a societal issue which every Australian, and every Australian workplace, can contribute to addressing. As Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, I deliver this report with a sense of urgency and hope.”

The findings from Everyone’s Business revealed that there is also an urgent need to raise awareness of sexual harassment as a work health and safety (WHS) issue. Established in 2011, the Model WHS Laws comprise the Model WHS Act, the Model WHS Regulations and the 24 Model Codes of Practice. Implemented in all jurisdictions except Western Australia and Victoria, the Model WHS Laws do not expressly prohibit sexual harassment. The lack of an express WHS Regulation means that workplace sexual harassment is not being addressed by WHS regulators or employers in a consistent and systemic way, thereby necessitating an increased awareness of sexual harassment as a WHS issue.

Image credit: © Roach