Skip to main content

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace - Summary of Comparisons

Media Pack Index||
Summary of Comparisons

Summary of Comparisons

The following is a summary of Chapter 3 of 20 Years On:
The Challenges Continue ... Sexual Harassment in the Australian Workplace
- the comparisons between the findings of the national telephone survey
and the results of HREOC's review of sexual harassment in employment
complaints in A Bad Business: Review of sexual harassment in employment
complaints 2002

Demographics of harassers and their targets

HREOC's review of sexual harassment in employment complaints
in A Bad Business and the findings of the telephone survey reported
in The Challenges Continue reinforce many previous findings on
the characteristics of the targets and perpetrators of sexual harassment,
including that:

  • women are more likely to be the targets of harassment than men;
  • men are more likely to be harassers than women;
  • younger people are more likely to be the targets of sexual harassment than older people; and
  • most sexual harassment involves men harassing women.


A Bad Business found that almost three quarters of complainants
of sexual harassment were relatively new to the workplace when the harassment
occurred. The Challenges Continue found that almost half of the
telephone survey interviewees who experienced sexual harassment at work
in the past five years had been at the workplace for less than 12 months.
These findings suggest that those newest to the workplace may be particularly
susceptible to sexual harassment.

Relationship between harassers and their targets

In A Bad Business, the majority of alleged harassers
were in a superior position in the workplace in relation to the complainant. The Challenges Continue found that co-workers were the most frequent
harassers, but that over one third of harassers were in formal authoritative
relationships with the targets. Moreover, where the harasser was described
as the "employer or boss", interviewees were less likely to formally
report the sexual harassment.

Harassed by customers

Ten per cent of interviewees described the harasser as a client
or customer. The relationship between an employee and a customer or
client may not fall under the provisions of the SDA, so that an employee
may not have an avenue for redress directly against the client harasser.
Moreover, managing formal workplace complaints of an employee who has
been allegedly sexually harassed by a client of the employer presents
employers with a range of complexities not easily addressed. See page
19 of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Code of Practice for
for more information

Types of sexual harassment experienced

Over half of the sexual harassment experienced tends to include
physical behaviour, although the most frequently occurring categories
of sexual harassment in both sets of data ("crude or offensive behaviour"
in the telephone survey in The Challenges Continue and "lewd
suggestive comments, innuendo, display of offensive material" in A
Bad Business
) were non-physical types. This may suggest a system
of progression of sexually harassing behaviour.

Workplace size and occupation

It seems that workplace size has little or no influence on
the incidence of sexual harassment. However, occupation does appear
to play a role. Gender segregated occupations such as clerical, sales
and services occupations tend to have high incidence rates.

Duration of harassment

Both A Bad Business and The Challenges Continue show that over half of the sexual harassment experienced continues for
up to six months, suggesting that sexual harassment may have a significant
impact on the productivity of a workplace.