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Tackling violence, harassment and bullying - Annual Report 2011-2012: Australian Human Rights Commission

The year in review

Tackling violence, harassment and bullying

‘BackMeUp gives you the opportunity to stand up, and not sit back, and show how you would support someone who has been cyberbullied’

(Ruby Rose, Campaign Ambassador)


Tackling violence, harassment and bullying is the second of the
Commission’s two major policy priorities.

We all have a right to feel safe and respected. We all have a right to live
our lives free from violence. Violence, harassment and bullying can violate
these rights. They can also impact on other rights, such as the right to
education and the right to health. Violence, harassment and bullying affect
well-being and quality of life.

We have published several research papers on how violence, harassment and
bullying affects vulnerable groups including women, Indigenous people, people
with a disability and people from culturally and linguistically diverse

A significant amount of our work has focused on cyber bullying and, in
particular, the role of bystanders. We have also developed partnerships to work
more effectively with these issues.

Countering cyber bullying

As part of our cyberbullying and bystander project, we engaged Edith Cowan
University’s Child Health Promotion Research Centre to conduct research
into the most effective ways to motivate young people to take safe and effective
action when they witness cyberbullying. In June 2012 they published a report
entitled Research and Insights: Report on Bystanders and Cyberbullying.

The Centre used blogs (409 participants), focus groups (109 participants) and
polls (10 341 participants) to generate both qualitative and quantitative data.
The research found that the majority of bullying incidents occur in front of
bystanders. It also found that a majority of bystanders either feel powerless to
act in support of the victim, or they actually encourage the bullying.

The research also provides the springboard for the Commission’s most
recent social marketing campaign, called BackMeUp. Launched on 15 June 2012, the
campaign aims to help prevent cyberbullying among young people and emphasizes
taking positive action to support friends or peers who are bullied.

BackMeUp is a competition in which young people submit a digital story
they have created showing the importance of bystanders in a cyberbullying
situation. The competition prize is a week-long film making course at the
National Institute for Dramatic Art. The campaign is supported by a range of
project partners across the government, corporate and NGO sectors. Campaign
Ambassadors are Ruby Rose and Cody Bell.

Safeguarding the rights of international students

Australia continues to have a high number of international student
enrolments, with a total of 557,425 in 2011.

Despite a number of policy and service reforms and reviews relating to
international students, some international students continue to experience
challenges that relate to economic insecurity, language and cultural barriers,
social isolation and issues related to accessing services and information.

The Commission has continued to work in consultation with international
students and their representative bodies, as well as representatives from the
international education sector, government and other key stakeholders, to
develop a set of principles that aim to promote and protect the human rights of
international students living in Australia.

These principles also aim to positively inform the ongoing development of
policies and services relating to international students living in Australia.
They will be launched later in 2012.

‘Lateral violence is harmful behaviour perpetrated within oppressed
communities by members of that community. It can occur within families, between
families, between clans and even across entire communities.’

(Commissioner Gooda )


Addressing lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

The Social Justice and Native Title Reports 2011 focused on the
issue of lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Social Justice Report looked at the historical and contemporary factors
in our communities, with a particular focus on Palm Island in North Queensland.
It also reported on cyberbullying, young people and bullying in schools,
workplace bullying, organisational conflict, social and emotional well-being and
involvement in the criminal justice system.

The Native Title Report considered how the native title system provides a
platform for lateral violence to be played out within our families, communities
and organisations.

Based on strong structural foundations and the principles of the United
Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the reports consider
options for addressing lateral violence.

Working to prevent violence against women

In April 2012, the Commission and the Department of Families, Housing,
Community Services and Indigenous Affairs co-hosted a study tour for the UN
Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Ms Rashida Manjoo.

The study tour was an opportunity for governments, community organisations
and individual women across the country to consider the manifestations of
violence against women within Australia, and to review the strategies being used
to reduce and eliminate all forms of violence against women and its causes.
Commissioner Broderick and Deputy Commissioner Durbach accompanied the Special
Rapporteur to a range of roundtables, meetings and site visits to hear from
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, migrant and refugee women, women
with disability and women of diverse sex, sexuality and/or gender and other
women. While not a formal mission, the study tour gave visibility to this
pressing human rights crisis within Australia. The study tour was an opportunity
to examine the implementation of Australia’s National Action Plan to
Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children
and highlight the range of
significant work being undertaken by women and men, NGOs, government departments
and various service providers to reduce and eliminate the causes and
consequences of violence against women.

In February 2012, Commissioner Broderick attended the 56th session of the
United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The focus on this
year’s forum was ‘The empowerment of rural women and their role in
poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges’.

At the session, the Commission advocated for the rights of women in rural,
regional and remote areas experiencing violence, as well as the rights of women
with disabilities. We also advocated for addressing unpaid work and multiple
disadvantage and for gender responsive policy and continued our advocacy for
independent participant status for NHRIs.

Commissioner Broderick and Deputy Commissioner Durbach have also examined the
issue of domestic violence as a workplace issue. In particular, they looked at
providing support for victims and survivors through workplace policies and
clauses in enterprise agreements that provide access to paid leave or
flexibility measures in relation to domestic and family violence. They also
examined the possible basis upon which status as an actual or perceived victim
of family violence could be included as a protected attribute under Commonwealth
anti-discrimination law. Deputy Commissioner Durbach convened a roundtable
discussion with representatives from women’s NGOs, working women’s
centres, discrimination law experts, women’s legal centres, unions, and
other stakeholders to discuss the introduction of domestic and family violence
as a new ground of discrimination. Consequently, in a submission to the
Consolidation of Commonwealth Discrimination Law Inquiry, the Commission called
for the introduction of a new ground of discrimination concerning domestic and
family violence.

Other activities regarding prevention of violence against women included:

Ms Joy Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons,
especially women and children, made an official visit in November 2011.
co-hosted a public forum and an NGO roundtable on human rights approaches to
trafficking with Anti-Slavery Australia. The Special Rapporteur’s report
on her Australian mission was tabled at the 20th session of the Human Rights
Council, on 23 June 2012. The Commission presented a statement at the Human
Rights Council’s 20th Session welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s

Throughout the Fairfax Speaker Series during October and November 2011, we
delivered speeches about domestic violence as a workplace issue.

We participated in a panel discussion on the International Day to Eliminate
Violence Against Women on 25 November. Our male Commissioners are White Ribbon

Complaint of sexual harassment in employment

The complainant alleged that she was sexually harassed by a co-worker at the
aged care facility where she works. The complainant claimed the co-worker made
comments about her breasts and on one occasion pushed her on a bed, lay on top
of her, grabbed her genitals and breasts and rubbed his genitals against her.
The complainant said she made an internal complaint, but this was not taken

On being notified of the complaint, the co-worker and employer agreed to
participate in a conciliation conference. The complainant did not want to
continue her employment with the respondent facility and the complaint was
resolved with an agreement that the employer would pay her $50,000 compensation.
The individual respondent’s employment was terminated and he also agreed
to undertake anti-discrimination training.


Domestic violence intervention

Being an intervenor in legal proceedings provides an important opportunity
for the Commission to provide human rights expertise to the courts and coroners.

In late 2011, we were granted leave to intervene in the coronial inquest into
the death of Andrea Pickett. Andrea, an Aboriginal woman from Western Australia,
was killed by her husband while he was on parole for breaching a violence
restraining order.

In this case, we advocated for systemic changes to domestic violence policies
and procedures in all Western Australian Government Departments that deal with
victims and perpetrators of domestic violence involving Aboriginal or Torres
Strait Islander Peoples, as well as in the Western Australia Police Service,
Department of Community Corrections and Department of Child Protection.

The inquest was heard in the Western Australian Coroners Court in June 2012,
with many of the Commission’s recommendations adopted in the final report
of the Coroner.

‘I thank Ms Elizabeth Broderick and her team for their excellent work.
This comprehensive report touches on all aspects of life at ADFA in 2011.”

(Acting Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Binskin 4 November 2011)


Reviewing the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Forces

In April 2011, the Commission agreed to undertake a Review into the Treatment
of Women in the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and the Australian
Defence Force (ADF).

In June 2011, a panel led by Commissioner Broderick began receiving
submissions for Phase One of the Review, about the treatment of women in ADFA
and the further initiatives that would be required for cultural change.

Research and consultation for Phase One engaged over 1000 individuals via a
‘World Café’ discussion event, 38 focus groups and 600 survey
respondents, in addition to submissions and calls to the Review hotline. This
amounted to consultations with over one quarter of the cadet body, ADFA staff,
parents of cadets, separated cadets and senior ADF personnel. This phase of the
Review was completed with the launch of the Review of the treatment of women
in the Australian Defence Forces
in November 2011.

ADFA has accepted and begun implementation of all 31 of the Review’s
recommendations. An evaluation of the implementation of the recommendations
twelve months after the release of the report has been agreed upon.

Phase Two of the Review is examining the effectiveness of cultural change
strategies in the ADF and the measures and initiatives required to improve
pathways for increased representation of women into the senior ranks and

Extensive consultations have been taking place since the completion of Phase
One, with the final report due for release in August 2012. The terms of
reference for both phases of the Review are available on the Commission website:

Working toward stronger protection against sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a persistent and pervasive problem in
Australia and elsewhere, demanding new and creative responses.

One significant area that may inform prevention and response strategies is
the area of ‘bystander approaches’. During the year under review, we
commissioned research to explore the potential for bystander approaches to
prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.

Associate Professor Paula McDonald from QUT and Dr Michael Flood from the
University of Wollongong were commissioned to undertake this research. Their
report will be released in July 2012.

We also commissioned Roy Morgan Research to conduct the 2012 national sexual
harassment prevalence survey on our behalf. The results from this survey will be
released in the second half of 2012.

In July 2011, we made a submission to the Inquiry into the Family Law
Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and other Measures) Bill 2011. The
Commission supported the proposed amendments, ensuring that the Family Law
Act 1975 (Cth)
aligns its provisions with international human rights

Complaint of sexual harassment in employment

The complainant was employed as a tradesman/bricklayer with the respondent
construction company. The complainant claimed a male co-worker sexually harassed
him during a social gathering at a work campsite. The complainant claimed the
co-worker grabbed his chest, stomach, testicles, buttocks and penis. The
complainant had not returned to work since the incident.

The respondent company confirmed that an incident occurred on a work campsite
between the complainant and his co-worker. The company submitted that it could
not determine from its investigations what had happened and whether the
complainant was sexually harassed. The company advised that it offered to move
the complainant to a different worksite the day after the alleged incident.

The complaint was resolved with an agreement that the parties continue the
employment relationship with assurances that the complainant would not have to
work with the co-worker who was alleged to have sexually harassed him. The
company also agreed to pay the complainant $20,000 compensation for his hurt and