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Marnie Banger, Oliver Caffrey and Laura Polson
(Australian Associated Press)
One-in-three Australians was sexually harassed at work in the past five years, a significant spike in the number of people saying they’ve endured such behaviour.
But Australia is closer than ever to stamping out sexual harassment, with the MeToo phenomenon helping to change attitudes, according to the nation’s sex discrimination commissioner.
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s fourth survey into the issue has produced some alarming results, with about two-in-five (39 per cent) of women reporting harassment at work in the past five years.
A quarter of men (26 per cent) also said they were victims.
That means one-in-three Aussies experienced sexual harassment, compared to one in five in 2012.
Commissioner Kate Jenkins said it’s hard to know whether the spike has been driven by an increase in experiences of harassment or greater awareness of what constitutes it.
But she said the figures prove things will not get better through time alone.
“Many people tell me to be patient. They tell me that the next generation will eliminate sexual harassment,” she told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
“Well, our survey results tell us exactly what the next generation is tolerating and why we have to act. Change doesn’t take time – it takes action.”
Of Australians who had been sexually harassed in the past five years, just 17 per cent had made a formal complaint.
Almost half of those who complained said it did not result in changes being made in their workplace.
One-in-three people also said they had witnessed sexual harassment, but only a third of them took action in response.
The results are depressing, Ms Jenkins said, but Australia is closer than ever before to taking positive action to eliminate sexual harassment.
She said the MeToo movement, which followed allegations of harassment and abuse against high-profile men in Hollywood last year, has given victims a voice and opened the public’s eyes to the issue.
“Without doubt, attitudes are beginning to change,” she said.
A world-first inquiry into the issue, announced in June, will question what is driving harassment and what can be done to change things.
“I am confident that this wide-ranging extensive national inquiry will come up with solutions that are practical and evidence-based,” Ms Jenkins said.
Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer said the survey results showed the government must keep working to change the culture of Australian workplaces.
“Women should feel safe at work, and in every other aspect of their lives,” she said.