Australia has become the first country in the world to announce a national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the 12-month investigation will examine existing legal frameworks, as well as the economic impact and drivers of harassment.
One-quarter of women and 16 per cent of men reported they had been sexually harassed in the workplace in the previous five years, according to a 2012 Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) survey. The AHRC is currently conducting a new national survey on the issue, and Commissioner Jenkins said early indications are that harassment rates have risen significantly since the 2012 research.
“We need to continue working to create a society where this kind of conduct is unthinkable, and where sexual harassment at work is not something people simply have to put up with,” she stated.
The AHRC survey revealed women are the most likely employees to experience sexual harassment, with male colleagues often the perpetrators. Female workers were also at least five times more likely to suffer harassment from an employer.
Certain groups of women face inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace more than others, a recent University of Sydney report found. Women with disabilities and those from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds are particularly vulnerable; the research showed they were twice as likely as peers to suffer harassment.
Commissioner Jenkins said a growing number of both women and men are now coming forward with their stories because of the #MeToo movement.
“These personal accounts have made clear the devastating impact sexual harassment can have on individuals’ lives, as well as the significant costs to business and the community,” she stated.
The commissioner confirmed the inquiry investigators would also talk to individuals and organisations across the country to identify examples of workplace good practice to inform discussions about positive change.
People who experience sexually violent crimes in Australia may be entitled to compensation in various ways.
For example, the NSW Government offers recognition payments of up to $10,000 for survivors of sexual assault. Further compensation may also be available if an institution, such as a government agency or school, breaches their duty of care obligations.
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