Monday, 26 February 2018 11:30

Sexual harassment at work hasn't gone away

Twenty-two years ago the Commission published a series of award-winning posters about sexual harassment, created by advertising agency McCann-Erikson.

Women's body in business suit with three sets of text: "Does your job involve hands on experience?" "Know someone who thinks this is eye contact?" "Mistaken for office equipment?"

A sharp increase in sexual harassment complaints prompted the poster campaign, which won the Community Services section in the Positive Portrayal of Women in Advertising Awards 1996.

Complaints had more than doubled in two years: from 180 in 1992–93 to 430 in 1993–94.

Ninety-seven per cent of these complaints were about sexual harassment in employment, which was the largest area of complaint to the Commission. Ninety-five per cent of complainants were women.

Here's a case study of sexual harassment from the time:

Susan was employed as a clerk by a large company. Andrew, her supervisor, would touch her shoulders as he walked past, comment on her appearance and frequently ring her at home to say he loved her. Eventually Susan complained to the general manager who offered her work in a different area of the factory. Susan refuse the offer as she would still have to liaise with Andrew. The matter was resolved in conciliation – Andrew gave Susan an apology and the company paid her the equivalent of two months' salary and provided her with a reference.

In 1994–95 sexual harassment complaints rose even higher to 527 – 511 of these were in employment, almost 97 per cent. Again, almost all the complainants were from women (91 per cent).

Sexual harassment remained one of the largest areas of complaint to the Commission for the next ten years, with the annual report in 2001–02 noting that there had been a seven-fold increase in sexual harassment across the previous decade.

From 2006–07 sexual harassment complaints started to level out, but it is still one of the more frequent areas of complaint to the Commission.

In 2016–17 we received 131 complaints of sexual harassment, and more than 88 per cent of these originated in the workplace (116). Nearly 70 per cent of complaints were from women.

Since July last year sexual harassment complaints have been on the rise again. Our data shows a 32 per cent increase so far, compared to 2016–17.

It seems hard to believe that women – for they are still predominantly the ones being harassed – are still being mistaken for office equipment more than twenty years after the Commission's award-winning campaign.

Perhaps it's time to hit reprint?

We can help

If you have been sexually harassed you can call the Commission on 1300 292 153, chat with us online or submit an online complaint form.

The Commission helps people to resolve complaints of sexual harassment by providing a free, impartial conciliation service. 

At conciliation both people sit down and negotiate an agreed outcome – this might be an apology, equal opportunity training in the workplace, or a financial settlement.

You can also seek counselling or support from 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Media contact

Kat O'Shea
Mobile: 0459 114 657
Email: Kat.O'Shea@veohrc.vic.gov.au

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