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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace - Media Release

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Wednesday, 24 March 2004

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward and Attorney General Philip Ruddock MP today launched a package of materials on workplace sexual harassment, including the results of a national telephone survey which found that more than one in four Australians have been sexually harassed.

20 Years On: The Challenges Continue . . . Sexual Harassment in the Australian Workplace reports the findings of a national household telephone survey of 1,006 Australians between the ages of 18 and 64 years conducted by the Gallup Organization on behalf of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) in 2003.

In the survey, 28 per cent of adult Australians (41 per cent of Australian women and 14 per cent of men) stated that they have experienced sexual harassment, with two-thirds experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace.

In addition, 15 per cent of adult Australian women and six per cent of men said that they experienced workplace sexual harassment within the five years prior to the survey, with 22 per cent of these women and men stating that the harassment occurred in the last 12 months. This translates to an estimated 230,000 workers in Australia claiming to have experienced sexual harassment at work in 2002-03.

"Sexual harassment at work is a perennial issue particularly affecting women in paid work. It is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that acts as a barrier to women's full participation in the workplace and to the realisation of real equality," said Ms Goward.

The Commissioner also launched guidelines for employers on how to meet their obligations to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Code of Practice for Employers clearly explains what constitutes sexual harassment, how employers can be liable and how they can avoid liability by taking all reasonable steps to prevent this occuring in their workplaces.

"The relatively high incidence rate of workplace sexual harassment, despite 20 years of legislation making such conduct unlawful suggests that the effectiveness of current employer policies to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace may vary considerably," Ms Goward said.

These materials build on HREOC's earlier review of sexual harassment in employment complaints, A Bad Business: Review of sexual harassment in employment complaints 2002, and demonstrate the persistent nature of sexual harassment.

The findings in these surveys suggest that employers, employer associations, unions and anti-discrimination agencies such as HREOC must continue to focus on educating workplace participants of their rights and responsibilities, take action to prevent sexual harassment, and deal effectively and comprehensively with harassment when it occurs. The challenges continue.