Sexual harassment widespread in Australian workplaces

ONE in four women was sexually harassed in the workplace over the past five years, a survey of more than 2000 Australians has found.

It was one of a number of alarming statistics contained in the results of the Australian Human Rights Commission's Working Without Fear survey, which showed sexual harassment was not only widespread in Australian workplaces, but that progress in addressing the problem had stalled.

The phone survey, which is conducted every four years, also showed just over one in five people (21%) aged 15 years and older was sexually harassed while at work over the past five years.

>>Read the report

This represented a slight increase since 2008, when the figure was 20%.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said this was an "extraordinary" figure.

She said the limited advances in stamping out workplace sexual harassment was one of the most concerning aspects of the survey results.

"This has happened in spite of stronger legislative protections against sexual harassment and the steps taken by many Australian workplaces to prevent and address sexual harassment," Ms Broderick wrote in the report.

"It is time to renew our commitment to eradicating sexual harassment from all our workplaces. It is also time for all of us - employers, employees, unions, employer associations and other concerned individuals - to take a stand, to play a part in ensuring that sexual harassment has no place in Australian workplaces. Women and men must be able to work without fear."

She said improving rates of awareness and reporting were also alarmingly low.

While a quarter of women reported being sexually harassed at work, that figure drops to one in six for men, or 16%.

If a person's entire lifetime is considered, the gender gap is even more profound with a third of women (33%) and less than one in ten men (9%) experiencing sexual harassment.

The survey found the targets of sexual harassment were most likely to be women under 40 and harassers were most likely to be male co-workers.

Women are at least five times more likely than men to have been harassed by a boss or employer. Men harassing women accounts for more than half of all sexual harassment.

Commissioner Broderick said one of the most encouraging parts of the research concerned the role of bystanders - people who witnessed or later became aware of sexual harassment.

She said these people have an extremely important role to play in confronting and combating sexual harassment, but they needed to supported and empowered.

"Fifty-one per cent of people who were bystanders - that is over half - took some action to prevent or reduce the harm of the sexual harassment they were aware of," she said.

Commissioner Broderick said that bystanders could help to prevent and reduce the harm of sexual harassment and ensure safe work environments for themselves and their colleagues.

Sexual harassment is any behaviour that is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that a reasonable person would anticipate could make the person harassed feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

This was the third phone survey of its type and was conducted between May and August.

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