the Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey
2.1 Background to the 2008 national telephone survey
2.2 Aims of the 2008 national telephone survey
2.3 Summary of methodology
2.4 What is in this report
2.5 Language and definitions
We were playing [and] mucking around. I knew he
liked me. I didn’t like him back. He made physical sexual advances and I
had to fight him off. He was the boss. It was my word against his [so] I
didn’t raise it with the
Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), the Australian Human
Rights Commission (the Commission) is charged with the responsibility to
undertake research and educational programs to promote the objectives of the
legislation. These objectives include the elimination of sexual harassment in
Since the introduction of the legislation, the Commission has regularly
undertaken a range of activities to reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment
including issuing guidelines for employers, conducting research and developing
educational materials for the public.
In 2003, the Commission undertook Australia’s first comprehensive
national telephone survey to provide a rigorous report on the nature and extent
of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The national telephone survey of
1000 randomly selected participants found that 28% of women and 7% of men had
personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace during their
Sexual harassment presented as a significant issue during the Sex
Discrimination Commissioner’s Listening Tour in 2007 and early
2008. The Commissioner heard about
sexual harassment across a range of industries and workplaces she visited.
Participants raised a number of specific issues in relation to sexual
harassment, such as:
- a lack of understanding as to what sexual harassment is and where
the line is drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour
- victims of sexual harassment often fear making complaints because of
- young women in early employment are especially vulnerable to sexual
- new technologies, such as mobile phones and social networking
websites, are adding a new dimension to sexual harassment
- some employers are unclear about the best way to respond to
incidents of sexual harassment.
Following the Listening Tour,
Commissioner Broderick announced sexual harassment as a key priority for her
In July 2008, the Commissioner announced that she would be repeating the
national telephone survey, based on the 2003 survey, to track trends in the
nature and extent of sexual harassment.
The findings of the survey will inform the Commission’s educational
strategy to drive down the incidence and impact of sexual harassment.
The aims of the 2008 national telephone survey were to find out:
- the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces
- the types of sexual harassment experienced in Australian workplaces
- the nature of sexual harassment – characteristics of those who
experience harassment, characteristics of harassers and characteristics of
workplaces where harassment occurs
- how sexual harassment is reported and the outcomes of complaints
- preferred sources of information about sexual harassment
- trends in the nature and extent of sexual harassment between 2003 and
Between July and September 2008, two thousand and five randomly selected
respondents representative of the Australian population aged 18 to 64, were
interviewed by telephone about sexual harassment in the workplace. Respondents
were representative of the Australian population in terms of age, gender and
area of residence.
In July 2008, the first wave of this national telephone survey was conducted
with a sample of 1005 people.
The survey used for this first wave replicated almost exactly the survey used
in the 2003 national telephone survey conducted by the Commission, with some
minor word changes.
In September 2008, a second wave of telephone interviews were conducted with
1000 nationally representative people aged 18 to 64.
The Commission made changes to the survey for the second wave. Questions were
added to measure the incidence of specific behaviours that may in fact
constitute sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). These questions were asked of those who said they had not
experienced ‘sexual harassment’ in the workplace in the last five
years according to the definition based from the Sex Discrimination Act
1984 (Cth). These questions were not asked in the 2003 national telephone
survey. The questions were added to assess the level of understanding of sexual
harassment and to gain a more robust estimation of the prevalence of sexual
harassment in the workplace.
The 2008 national telephone survey was conducted on behalf of the Commission
by Market Focus International.
Further information about the design, methodology and limitations of the
national telephone survey can be found at Appendix A.
This report sets out the findings of the 2008 national telephone survey and,
where possible, compares the results to the 2003 national telephone survey
The following chapters of the report include analysis of the extent of sexual
harassment in Australian workplaces, the nature of sexual harassment in
Australia and patterns of reporting sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
A note about how the findings are reported
The data reported from the 2008 and 2003 national telephone surveys draws on
the reported experiences of respondents. Conclusions about the nature and extent
of sexual harassment have been drawn based on these reported experiences.
The following terms are used in this report:
Respondent - the person who has been interviewed in the national
Target - those respondents who have personally experienced sexual
Harasser – the person who is the alleged perpetrator of sexual
Small, medium and large employers - For the purposes of this survey,
large employers are defined as more than 100 employees, medium employers are
26-100 employees and small employers are less than 25 employees. However, it
should be noted that the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines small employers
as having 1-19 employees, medium employers as having 20 – 199 employees
and large employers as having over 200 employees.
Definition of sexual harassment
The definition of sexual harassment provided to respondents is drawn from
section 28A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth):
(1) For the purposes of this Division, a person sexually harasses another
person (the person harassed) if:
(a) the person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for
sexual favours, to the person harassed; or
(b) engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the
in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the
circumstances, would have anticipated that the person harassed would be
offended, humiliated or intimidated.
(2) In this section:
conduct of a sexual nature includes making a statement of a
sexual nature to a person, or in the presence of a person, whether the statement
is made orally or in writing.
The survey also asked respondents about particular behaviours which courts
have accepted as potentially falling within the above definition.
The above definition includes both a subjective element (whether the
behaviour was unwelcome to the target) and objective elements (whether the
conduct was of a sexual nature and whether a reasonable person would have
anticipated that the target would be offended, humiliated or intimidated).
Respondents in the national telephone survey were asked to self-identify as
having been sexually harassed or the recipient of certain unwelcome behaviours
that may constitute sexual harassment. It is therefore not possible to assess
whether the relevant conduct would necessarily meet the above statutory
definition, which may depend on a variety of factors including how a reasonable
third person would have viewed the conduct.
 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Sex Discrimination
Commissioner's Listening Tour - Women's focus group 6 (2008)
 Elizabeth Broderick
started as Sex Discrimination Commissioner in September 2007. Her first major
project was a national Listening Tour to gain community and stakeholder feedback
on three key themes relating to gender equality: economic independence for
women; work and family balance over the lifecycle; and freedom from
discrimination, harassment and violence. The Listening Tour Community Report, What matters to Australian women and men: Gender equality in 2008, can be