16 April 2012

Sexual harassmentIt may be 2012 but sexual harassment remains a persistent problem in Australian workplaces. 

As part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project, a report has been released analysing 284 sexual harassment complaints reported to all Australian, state and territory equal opportunity commissions. The report details the type of sexual harassment complained about, the people and organisations involved and the outcomes of these formal complaints. . 

Associate Professor Sara Charlesworth, from UniSA, says the report provides a greater understanding about the nature of workplace sexual harassment.

“Previously, data about sexual harassment complaints in Australia have been limited to what has been reported in individual Commissions’ annual reports, which don’t have the depth or detail provided in this report,” she said.

“This report provides a better picture of the types of sexual harassment that are the subject of formal complaints. 

“In Australian workplaces, formal sexual harassment complaints are more likely to involve people who are in less precarious employment situations and who report the ‘classic’ profile of sexual harassment with a male harasser in a senior position harassing a more junior woman, and involving physical sexual harassment.” 

Key findings from the report suggest women are much more likely to lodge a formal complaint than men and sexual harassment complaints are made by people in a range of occupations and about workplaces in a wide range of industries.

Associate Professor Charlesworth says sexual harassment can lead to negative consequences for those who experience it..

“Distress and offence, poorer health and well-being, job loss, and damaged working relationships were the most commonly reported impacts of the sexual harassment experienced by the complainants,” she says.

Associate Professor Charlesworth says less than half of the complaints lodged with the Commissions resulted in any settlement.

“A third of these settled complaints had terms agreeing to systemic workplace changes relating to training, education, policies or practices,” she said.

“In just under three-quarter of the complaints settled complainants received some form of financial compensation, with a median total figure of $7,000.”

The report was produced in collaboration between UniSA’s Centre for Work and Life, and QUT’s Business School.

A one day symposium will be held on April 17 at the Queensland University of Technology that will explore the report’s findings and why sexual harassment remains prevalent in the workplace.

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