Increase in sexual harassment – we need better protection for victims

Increase in sexual harassment – we need better protection for victims

Thursday, 13 September 2018

We are concerned about findings that show existing legal protections are failing to protect Australians from sexual harassment. The latest edition of the National Survey on Sexual Harassment, released today, confirms that workplace sexual harassment is widespread, pervasive and on the rise, and we are calling for new powers to address this issue.

The Australian Human Rights Commission survey found that one in three people have been sexually harassed at work in the past five years, yet only 17 per cent of people who have experienced sexual harassment made a formal report or complaint.

These findings are consistent with our clients’ experiences and the broader flaws we see in the system. We regularly see women decide not to pursue strong sexual harassment claims because the personal toll is too high or they think nothing will change. When a victim chooses not to pursue a claim the perpetrator goes scot-free because there is no agency with the power to enforce sexual harassment laws.

Our Equality Law Program Manager, Melanie Schleiger said, 'The survey results confirm our view that the system is broken and fails victims of sexual harassment because there is no agency that enforces the law – it is left completely up to victims to enforce sexual harassment laws. This approach is doomed to fail at redressing the serious harm that sexual harassment causes to people’s lives, and it is doomed to fail at creating safe workplaces where sexual harassment is proactively stamped out and replaced with a culture of respect'. 

'We urgently need an authority that has the power and resources to create real change using a full suite of regulatory tools, including public education campaigns that match the scale of this problem, and the ability to investigate and prosecute employers that fail to protect workers or take action in response to sexual harassment', said Melanie.

With the survey confirming that the rates of sexual harassment at work have increased significantly since the last one in 2012, immediate action is needed to fix our sexual harassment protections. It is no longer enough for us to have a system that waits for victims to make claims, we need a regulator that is empowered to investigate claims and take action on victims’ behalf.

Cultural change and community education is also important, with the survey showing that one of the most common reasons that people who experienced sexual harassment did not report it is because the behavior was commonplace or accepted as part of the workplace.

'The Fair Work Ombudsman is running an active and well publicised campaign to stop the underpayment of workers and we have workplace health and safety regulators that prosecute employers who fail to keep their workers physically safe. The harm caused by sexual harassment is just as serious, and it’s high time we have a fitting regulatory response,' said Melanie.

We look forward to working with the community, stakeholders and service providers to campaign for a better system to protect victims of sexual harassment.

More information

Read our opinion in Sexual Harassment regulations still not working for Victorian women.

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